Woman wearing headscarf

What to Know about the 5 Most Common Types of Cancers

Common Types of Cancer

Cancer can affect any part of the body and cause a variety of symptoms. However, some cancers are far more common than others.

In this article, we take a look at some of the most common types of cancer, along with their risk factors, symptoms, and survival rates.

The Most Common Types of Cancer

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, the five most common types of cancer are as follows:

Types of CancerNumber of Cases in 2018Percentages of All Cancers (excluding skin cancer)
Skin CancerN/AN/A
Lung Cancer2,093,87612.3%
Breast Cancer2,088,85912.3%
Colorectal (bowel) Cancer)1,800,97710.6%
Prostate Cancer1,276,1067.5%

You will notice that no exact figures are available for the incidence of skin cancers. This is because there are many different types of skin cancer and they are not subject to the same reporting requirements as other cancers. However, it is widely accepted that skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States.

Let’s take a look at each of these common types of cancer in a little more detail.

Skin Cancer

There are many different types of skin cancer, making it difficult to find exact statistics. As an example, let's take a look at one common type of skin cancer known as melanoma.

The American Cancer Society estimates that 96,480 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in 2019. The incidence of this cancer has risen quickly over the last 30 years.

Risk factors for skin cancer include:

  • Exposure to ultraviolet light (e.g. sunlight or tanning beds)
  • A large number of moles on the skin
  • Pale skin that burns easily
  • Reduced immunity

The most common symptom of skin cancer is skin changes such as new moles, or changes to existing moles. It is important to have these symptoms investigated quickly.

Fortunately, skin cancer is easily treated, providing it detected early. The five-year survival rate is estimated at 92% for melanoma.

Lung Cancer

Although the incidence of lung cancer has decreased dramatically since the 1990s, it is still extremely common. Lung cancer affects over 2 million Americans every year.

Risk factors include:

  • Smoking
  • Exposure to chemicals such as asbestos or radon gas

The symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • Chronic cough
  • Blood in the sputum
  • Chest pain
  • Voice changes
  • Shortness of breath
  • Regular infections

Sadly, by the time these symptoms occur, the cancer has often progressed to an advanced stage. Therefore, the five-year survival rate is low at just 19%.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in females, affecting over 2 million American women every year.

Risk factors include:

  • Family history
  • Age
  • Being overweight
  • Use of hormonal replacement therapy
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Physical inactivity

The risk of breast cancer may be reduced by breastfeeding for at least one year.

Breast cancer symptoms include:

  • Breast lumps
  • Breast swelling
  • Nipple changes
  • Nipple discharge
  • Skin changes
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Thanks to increased awareness and improvements in screening, the five-year survival rate has increased greatly since the late 1980s. It is now approximately 90%.

Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer includes cancer of the rectum or colon. These two types of cancer accounted for over 10% of cancer diagnoses in 2018.

Risk factors include:

  • Age
  • Being overweight
  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking
  • Consumption of red meat or processed meat
  • Low fiber consumption
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Medical conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease or Crohn’s disease

The symptoms of colorectal cancer include:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite

People aged 55 and over are now routinely screened for bowel cancer. This has helped to raise the five-year survival rate to 65%.

Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is a common type of cancer among men. It accounted for around 7.5% of all cancer diagnoses in 2018. This type of cancer is more common in men with African heritage, although scientists are unsure why.

Other risk factors include:

  • Age
  • Family history

The symptoms of prostate cancer include:

  • Difficulty urinating
  • Frequent urination
  • Blood in the urine
  • Painful or burning urination

In its more advanced stages, prostate cancer may also cause pain in the hips, spine or ribs.

The survival rate has improved significantly since the early 1990s, with a 50% reduction in deaths. Routine screenings for men over 50 years old has meant that 90% of prostate cancers are detected early. This has led to a five-year survival rate close to 100%.

Other Common Types of Cancer

The above are just five of the most common cancer types. However, there are numerous other common cancers, including:

  • Stomach cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Leukemia

Fortunately, cancer is not the death sentence that it used to be. New treatments are being developed all the time, and people are becoming more aware of how to live healthily and what symptoms to look out for.

However, with any type of cancer, the key to survival is early detection. Therefore, it is vital that you see you physician if you experience any symptoms, no matter how insignificant they may seem. Chances are they will be nothing to worry about. However, that doctor’s appointment may just save your life.

Article Resources