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Presenting cancer information in an easy to understand format for all to access


The National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN) is a UK-wide initiative, working to drive improvements in standards of care and clinical outcomes by improving data and information collected about cancer patients, producing analyses and enabling and promoting research.

We spoke to Trish Watts at the NCIN who, along with colleague Steve Davies, has been involved in a project to present data relating to cancer in a format that can be easily accessed and understood. The NCIN works with the UK Association of Cancer Registries (UKACR), the organisation of the 11 Cancer Registries which routinely collect data on cancer in the UK, as well as with the NHS and cancer charities.

A vast quantity of information is produced by the NCIN and its partners. Statistics are published on how many people are diagnosed with, or die from cancer and reports are produced on how it affects different groups of people within the UK. For example, how it affects teenagers and young adults, or different ethnic groups. The information published covers many aspects of the cancer journey, from the number of urgent referrals by GPs and how people are referred into hospitals to who receives surgery and other treatments for their cancer. “This is complex information,” says Trish. “So we wanted to find a way of presenting some of it in such a way that could be understood by all, regardless of whether or not they have any analytical experience.”

Getting started

The NCIN began using InstantAtlas to develop an interactive online visualisation of some of the data. Trish says the idea was to come up with a new way to view cancer incidence, mortality and survival statistics for whole of the UK and for smaller areas such as counties or NHS primary care trusts. Once she and Steve had become familiar with the InstantAtlas software, they found it easy to use and make changes to the way that the data are presented. The UK Cancer e-Atlas allows data to be viewed by different geographic breakdowns and gives the public, health care professionals, commissioners and health service managers information on many different types of cancer.

The data included in the cancer e-atlas are:

e-atlas cancer incidence statistics interactive atlas  

  • Cancer incidence statistics based on patients diagnosed in 2006-2008
  • Cancer mortality statistics based on people that died from cancer in 2007-2009
  • Cancer survival estimates for patients diagnosed with cancer up to 2008

NCIN InstantAtlas London User Conference Presentation  

Watch the NCIN presentation at the InstantAtlas 2012 User Conference in London

e-atlas cancer incidence rates by NHS boundaries  

Trish says the Cancer e-Atlas is the most popular page on the NCIN website. “We have more than 1,500 unique visitors each month.”

“It covers the whole of the UK, and users can drill down to look at information about specific tumours with mortality and survival rates in whichever area that they choose.” Trish has also produced promotional material to raise awareness of the map and attends relevant conferences to get the word out.

Future developments

The NCIN is beginning to produce daily dashboards using InstantAtlas technology for NHS trusts so they can check the data submitted to the cancer registries, and it has also produced an equalities atlas.

The plan for the future is to keep producing regular updates and also look at producing new data visualisations for other data that become available. “We know it works so we are keen to take any new data and put it in this format,” says Trish.

Key benefits

  • Data visualisation has helped the NCIN meet one of its core objectives – to get data into the hands of the public and healthcare professionals
  • The e-atlas gives users access to information that prompts further, more in-depth questions
  • The interactive online format allows a large amount of data to be visualised in one go

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News and Articles


Arizona Department of Health Services | ‘Making data presentation meaningful when dealing with low rates of population density’


The Institute for Health Policy, School of Public Health, University of Texas | ‘Making data available to the community through easy-to-use data presentation tools’


Public Health Organization – ”Using data presentation to aid the policy-making process”