Cancer Statistics and Facts

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The Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is the leading source of information about the incidence of cancer and survival in the United States. The program, founded in 1973, collects and publishes data from population-based cancer registries covering around one-third of the U.S. population. In 2017, an estimated 15,760,939 Americans are living with cancer (or roughly 20% of the U.S. population). The data is further broken down to monitor cancer incidence, prevalence, and trends.

Map of the USA

JESPER KLAUSEN / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images

Annual Cases and Deaths

Cancer prevalence is the number of people who have ever been diagnosed with the disease on a certain date. This number includes past and recent diagnoses. On the other hand, yearly cancer incidence is the number of new cancers that occur among a specified population during a year. It is expressed as the number of cancers per 100,000 population at risk.

The National Cancer Institute estimated that in 2020, 1,806,590 new cancer cases would be diagnosed and that 606,520 new deaths from cancer would occur. The rate of new cases of any type of cancer was 442.4 per 100,000 people per year, and the death rate was 155.5 per 100,000 people per year.

The NCI breaks down these statistics to determine which cancers are more common based on incidence and mortality statistics that are reported by the American Cancer Society and other resources. To count as a common cancer, the estimated annual incidence for 2020 had to be 40,000 cases or more.

The most common type of cancer is breast cancer, with 279,100 new cases expected in the United States in 2020, followed by lung cancer and prostate cancer.

Top 10 Cancers in the United States
  Rank   Cancer Type Annual New Cases Annual New Deaths
1. Breast Cancer  276,480 42,170
2.  Lung and Bronchus Cancer  228,820 135,720
3. Prostate Cancer 191,930 33,330
4.  Colon & Rectum Cancer 147,950 53,200
5. Melanoma 100,350 6,850
6. Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma 77,240 19,940
7. Kidney and Renal Pelvis Cancer 73,750 14,830
8. Endometrial Cancer 65,620 12,590
9. Leukemia 60,530 23,100
10. Pancreatic Cancer 57,600 47,050

Three Most Common Cancers Diagnosed in Men and Women

Prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers made up 43% of all cancers diagnosed in men in 2020. For women, the three most common cancers were breast, lung, and colorectal, accounting for an estimated 50% of all new cancer diagnoses in women in 2020.

Cancer Risk

Cancer risk data can be further broken down by a number of factors, including sex, age, race, and ethnicity. These data show who may be at higher or lower risk for certain types of cancer. For example, for men of all races and ethnicities, the rate of new cases of any type of cancer was 480.3 per 100,000, while for women of all races and ethnicities, it was 418.3 per 100,000. 

Risk by Race/Ethnicity

Cancer affects certain racial and ethnic groups disproportionately, largely because of a lack of access to health care, which results in late diagnoses and inadequate treatment. As a result, there is a higher rate of cancer deaths within these groups. This is known as cancer disparities or cancer health disparities. For example, Black men have a higher incidence of prostate cancer compared with white men, and Black women have a higher incidence of breast cancer than white women.

New Cancer Cases by Race/Ethnicity per 100,000
Race/Ethnicity  Male Female 
All Races 480 418
White 486 432
Black 515 391
Hispanic 370 340
Asian & Pacific Islander 304 305
Native American/Alaska Native 321 306

Risk by Age

The risk of cancer increases with age, and cancer typically affects older people. The median age of being diagnosed with cancer is 66 years old. This is the case for many cancer types. For breast cancer, the median age of diagnosis is 61; colorectal cancer is 68; 70 for lung cancer; and 66 for prostate cancer.

Cancer New Cases by Age Group
 Age Group % Affected
<20 1%
20-34 2.8%
35-44 4.8%
45-54 12.5%
55-64 24.4%
65-74 28.2%
75-84  18.2%
<84 8.0%

Mortality Rate

The cancer mortality rate, also known as the cancer death rate, is the number of deaths out of 100,000 in one year. It is expressed as the number of deaths due to cancer per 100,000 population.

For men of all races, the death rate was 185.5 per 100,000. For women of all races, it was 113.5 per 100,000.

Deaths by Race/Ethnicity

Certain races and ethnic groups in the United States who are at a disadvantage socially, environmentally, and economically carry the brunt of cancer deaths. Factors that contribute to the high numbers include low health literacy, lack of health insurance, and limited access to care. In general, the probability of a late-stage diagnosis is greater for people who have no access to reliable health care.

According to mortality trends within racial and ethnic groups, Black men and women have the highest cancer rates, whereas Asians and Pacific Islanders have the lowest cancer death rates.

Cancer Deaths by Race/Ethnicity per 100,000
Race/Ethnicity   Male Female 
White 185.9 134.3
Black 221.1 150.7
Asian/Pacific Islander  114.6 84.6
Native American/Alaska Native  169.3 120.1
Hispanic  134.0 94.6
Non-Hispanic 190. 94.6

Risk by Age

Aging increases the risk of cancer due to an accumulation of risks as well as a decline in cell repair mechanisms with age. The National Cancer Institute reports that the percentage of any cancer deaths is higher in the age group of 65 to 75, with the median age of death being 72 years.

Cancer Deaths by Age Group
Age Group % Affected
<20 0.3%
20-34 0.8%
35-44 1.8%
45-54 6.9%
55-64 19.3%
65-74  27.7%
75-84 26.0%
>84  17.2%

Survival Rate

The current five-year survival rate for all cancers is 67.4%. This number refers to the percentage of people in a study or treatment group who are still alive five years after they were diagnosed or started treatment for a condition.

A relative survival rate compares the survival rate of people who have a specific disease with that among those who don’t over a time period. It is calculated by dividing the percentage of patients with the disease who are still alive at the end of the period of time by the percentage of people in the general population of the same sex and age who are alive at the end of the same time period. 

For each type of cancer, five-year survival rates are used for each stage to determine survival. The SEER program breaks down the stages in the following categories:

  • In situ: This stage is when cancer has only been found in epithelial tissues. Malignant cells are present but have not penetrated the basement tissue.
  • Localized:  At this stage, the malignancy is limited to the organ of origin and has not spread beyond that.
  • Regionalized: The tumor has extended outside the organ of origin. These tumors are hard to categorize, and they can fall into subcategories, such as regional by direct extension; regional to lymph nodes; regional to both direct extension and lymph nodes; and regional, not specified.
  • Distant: The tumor has spread to other areas of the body that’s distant from the organ of origin or remote from the initial tumor, or the tumor has metastasized and have been found in other parts of the body.
  • Unknown: In some cases, there isn’t enough information to assign a stage. 

The five-year relative survival rate for lung cancer is 20.5%, but the relative five-year survival rate is different for each stage of lung cancer.

Relative 5-Year Survival Rate Lung Cancer
Localized Regional Distant
60% 33% 6.3%

Number of Cancer Survivors in the United States

According to recent statistics, there were an estimated 16.9 million cancer survivors in the United States. The number of cancer survivors is estimated to increase to 22.2 million by 2030.

Cancer Trends

New cases of all cancers and deaths have fallen on average by 1.1% yearly from 2008 to 2017. Age-adjusted death rates have decreased on average to 1.7% from 2009 to 2018. However, for certain cancers, the rate has increased, namely pancreatic and liver cancer. Pancreatic cancer, which accounts for 3% of all cancers, has moved up from the fourth-leading cause of cancer deaths to being the third-leading cause.

One contributing factor is smoking, which can double the risk of pancreatic cancer. Obesity and type 2 diabetes are to blame as well. Having a body mass index (BMI) between 30 and 35, coupled with diabetes or prediabetes, high blood pressure, and taking cholesterol-lowering medication, significantly increases the risk of pancreatic cancer. 

Liver cancer is also on the rise. The most common risk factor for liver cancer is long-term infection with hepatitis B or hepatitis C. Hepatitis infection can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, which is linked to an increased risk of liver cancer.  

The role of trending is to identify vulnerable populations in order to direct public health resources. It is also used to track the overall efficacy of health interventions, whether structural or medical.

Trends show that other types of cancers are on the rise. Breast cancer has increased by 0.3% yearly on average from 2008 to 2017. On the other hand, new cases of lung and bronchus cancer have fallen by 2.2% each year from 2008 to 2017, while the rate of new cases for pancreatic cancer has also been increasing. 

A Word From Verywell

Rest assured that when you review statistics for cancer, they don’t necessarily indicate your personal risk of cancer. To reduce your risk of cancer, education is key. Learn the signs and symptoms of the most common cancers, and make positive lifestyle changes to reduce your chances of getting cancer if you smoke, eat a poor diet, drink excessive amounts of alcohol, or have a sedentary lifestyle. 

Never put off screenings just because you have no family history or you’re in excellent health. Get the appropriate screenings and the recommended vaccinations. An early diagnosis is potentially a life-saver with a greater chance of survival.

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