Progress against cancer through prevention and treatment is often measured by survival statistics only instead of analyzing trends in incidence, survival and mortality simultaneously because of interactive influences. This study combines these parameters of major cancers to provide an overview of the progress achieved in the Netherlands since 1989 and to establish in which areas action is needed. The population-based Netherlands Cancer Registry and Statistics Netherlands provided incidence, 5-year relative survival and mortality of 23 major cancer types. Incidence, survival and mortality changes were calculated as the estimated annual percentage change. Optimal progress was defined as decreasing incidence and/or improving survival accompanied by declining mortality, and deterioration as increasing incidence and/or deteriorating survival accompanied by increasing mortality rates. Optimal progress was observed in 12 of 19 cancer types among males: laryngeal, lung, stomach, gallbladder, colon, rectal, bladder, prostate and thyroid cancer, leukemia, Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Among females, optimal progress was observed in 12 of 21 cancers: stomach, gallbladder, colon, rectal, breast, cervical, uterus, ovarian and thyroid cancer, leukemia, Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Deterioration occurred in three cancer types among males: skin melanoma, esophageal and kidney cancer, and among females six cancer types: skin melanoma, oral cavity, pharyngeal, esophageal, pancreatic and lung cancer. Our conceptual framework limits misinterpretations from separate trends and generates a more balanced discussion on progress.