Cancer incidence, survival and mortality are essential population-based indicators for public health and cancer control. Confusion and misunderstanding still surround the estimation and interpretation of these indicators. Recurring controversies over the use and misuse of population-based cancer statistics in health policy suggests the need for further clarification. In our article, we describe the concepts that underlie the measures of incidence, survival and mortality, and illustrate the synergy between these measures of the cancer burden. We demonstrate the relationships between trends in incidence, survival and mortality, using real data for cancers of the lung and breast from England and Sweden. Finally, we discuss the importance of using all three measures in combination when interpreting overall progress in cancer control, and we offer some recommendations for their use.