Cancer Facts and Statistics: What You Need to Know

42% of cancer deaths could be prevented

Almost everyone has a friend or loved one who has had cancer. That loved one might be you. It helps to known the facts about cancer.

Cancers develop when some of the body’s cells start to grow out of control. These cells copy themselves and grow into a tumor. Cancer cells may spread to other tissues and parts of the body. Tumors and the spreading of cancer cells can disrupt how the body works, causing symptoms that can be deadly.

Every year more than 1.9 million people are diagnosed with new cancer cases. More than 500,000 people die of cancer every year (609,360 were expected in 2022)—that’s 1,670 deaths a day. Fortunately, the cancer survival rate is improving.

This article will highlight important facts and statistics you should know about cancer.

Healthcare provider holds hands with person facing cancer

FG Trade / Getty Images

Cancer Overview 

Cancer is a group of diseases with one thing in common: uncontrolled growth of a mass of cells. These cells start growing out of control in one part of the body but can then spread into other parts of the body and grow there. They'll first grow into nearby tissues, then spread to the lymph nodes through the lymphatic system.

They can become metastatic and spread to distant organs. In the organs, cancer can disrupt the body's normal functioning and cause symptoms that can become deadly, essentially shutting down the body. 

Cancer can develop in any tissue in the body. There are more than 100 types of cancer. They are usually named after the tissues or organs in which they start. Some cancers are more common than others, and some are more deadly. 

How Common Is Cancer?

Cancer is second only to heart disease as the cause of death for adults in the United States. Every year approximately 1 in 176 (1.9 million) U.S. adults are diagnosed with new cancer cases. Experts expected cancer to kill 1 in 550 (609,360) U.S. adults in 2022, which equals 1,670 per day.

Over the last several decades, the cancer survival rate has been improving, with death rates dropping 32% between 1991 and 2019.

Almost 40% of Americans will have a cancer diagnosis at some point. In 2020, 9.6% of living U.S. adults were previously diagnosed with cancer. Some had been successfully treated, while others continued to experience the condition. In 2019, 16.6 million people in the United States were living with cancer.

The most diagnosed cancers in 2020 were:

  1. Breast cancer
  2. Lung and bronchus cancer
  3. Prostate cancer
  4. Colorectal cancer
  5. Melanoma 
  6. Bladder cancer
  7. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
  8. Kidney and renal pelvis cancer
  9. Endometrial cancer
  10. Leukemia
  11. Pancreatic cancer
  12. Thyroid cancer
  13. Liver cancer

The numbers in this article don't include the most common cancers—skin cancers. Skin cancer includes basal and squamous cell skin cancers, which the national cancer databases don't track.

These cancers are very common but are often less dangerous because they're often caught early and can be effectively removed and treated. The figures in this article do include the more dangerous melanoma skin cancer.

Cancer by Ethnicity

There are large discrepancies in cancer prevention, screening, diagnosis, and treatment, based on racial, geographic, and socioeconomic disparities. These factors lead to more cases of cancer and worse outcomes in disadvantaged patients.

Cancers are most common in White women and Black men. Cancer deaths are highest in African American men (1 in 440) and lowest in Asian/Pacific Islander women (1 in 1,168).

Factors leading to these disparities include:

  • Lack of access to health care
  • Low-quality health care
  • Structural and individual racism against people of color
  • Inequalities in the standard of living and access to healthy foods
  • Delays in accessing care
Rates of New Cancer Cases by Race and Sex per 100,000
Ethnicity Case Rate in Men Case Rate in Women
Non-Hispanic White 514.8 450.8
Non-Hispanic Black 535.1 408.7
Non-Hispanic Asian/Pacific Islander 308.3 312.5
Non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native 435.6 415.2
Hispanic 374.6 346.5
Numbers in the table are new cases per 100,000 people. Data from the National Cancer Institute, years 2015–2019.
Cancer Death Rates by Race and Sex per 100,000
Ethnicity Death Rate in Men Death Rate in women
Non-Hispanic White 186.2 135.4
Non-Hispanic Black 221.4 152.1
Non-Hispanic Asian/Pacific Islander 113.2 84.2
Non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native 193.2 138.1
Hispanic 132.2 93.9
Numbers in the table are deaths per 100,000 people. Data from the National Cancer Institute years 2015–2019.

Cancer by Age and Gender

Cancer is more common in men than women. One in 206 men will get cancer during their life, compared to 1 in 238 women. Men are also more likely to die if they get cancer. Cancer will kill 1 in 528 U.S. men and 1 in 737 U.S. women.

Cancers that develop in the male reproductive system (penis, prostate, testicles) and those that develop in the female reproductive system (breast, ovary, uterus, cervix, vagina) will only impact people with those organs. 

The sex-specificities of some cancers can lead to disparity in the number of male or female cancer patients and their mortality rates. Differences in use levels of alcohol and tobacco can also contribute. 

In 2020, the most common cancers in men—combined responsible for an estimated 43% of male cancers—were:

  1. Prostate
  2. Lung
  3. Colorectal cancers

In women, the most common cancers—accounting for about half of all new cancer diagnoses—in 2020 were:

  1. Breast
  2. Lung
  3. Colorectal

Cancer is more common as people get older. The median age at which people develop cancer is 66. Cancer most frequently develops in people age 65–74, and these people are the most likely to die from cancer. The median age of death of cancer from any site is 72.

New Cancer Cases and Deaths by Age Group
Age Group Percent of New Cases Percent of Deaths
Under 20 1.0 0.3
20–34 2.8 0.8
35–44 4.8 1.8
45–54 11.7 6.6
55–64 24.2 19.2
65–74 29.2 28
75–84 18.5 26.2
Over 84 7.8 17.3
The percentage of new cancer cases and deaths of any site by what age the person was when first diagnosed. Data from the National Cancer Institute.

Causes of Cancer and Risk Factors

Often, there is no specific cause for cancer. Often it’s a combination of factors, including genetics and family history, environmental exposures to carcinogens, lifestyle factors, genetics, and sometimes just luck. 

In about 5%–10% of cases, cancer is related to a genetic syndrome. A person may be at increased risk due to family history.

But, at least 42% of future cancer cases are avoidable through lifestyle changes. Some of the most common preventable causes and risk factors that lead to cancer are:

  • Tobacco use: Smoking leads to 81% of deaths from lung cancer. Lung cancer kills 350 people per day. 
  • Alcohol use
  • Excess body weight and physical inactivity: These factors are leading to increased rates of several cancers, including female breast, uterine, colorectal, pancreatic, kidney, and female myeloma.

What Are the Mortality Rates for Cancer?

As a whole, 68.1% of people diagnosed with cancer are still alive five years later. Over the last several decades, the cancer survival rate has been improving, with the death rate dropping 32% between 1991 and 2019.

In 1992, 1 in 468 cancer patients died within five years. In 2019, that number was 1 in 685.

Survival Rate

There are a number of different ways to present survival rate, but generally, it is defined as the percentage of people who survive a disease such as cancer for a specified amount of time.

As medical technologies have advanced over the last few decades, there are new treatments, new screening methods and new ways of preventing cancer. Taken together, the risk of dying from cancer in the United States has dropped significantly from 1991.

Annual cancer death rates have dropped 2.2% each year in men and 1.7% each year in women. A few contributing factors to this change include:

  • People with lung cancer are being diagnosed earlier and living longer.
  • Fewer people are using tobacco
  • Treatment protocol improvements have been made for breast and colon cancer. 
  • Screening regimens are in place for the prevention and early detection of cervical, prostate, breast, colorectal, and lung cancers.
  • There is a reduced risk (down 50%) of dying from prostate cancer.
  • Improved death rates are seen due to new melanoma treatment options like targeted therapies and immunotherapies.

These drops add up to approximately 3.5 million fewer cancer deaths than would have been expected.

While there have been big improvements in cancer mortality, there is still a wide disparity between White people and people of color. Cancer survival rates are lower across the board for Black Americans than for White Americans.

Screening and Early Detection of Cancer

One of the best ways to improve cancer survival rates is to catch the disease in its early stages—before it has started to move beyond the organ or tissue in which it developed. The best way to do that is to screen for cancers.

Screenings can come as blood tests, imaging tests, hands-on testing by your healthcare provider, or taking a detailed history and paying attention to your symptoms.

Some screenings that have had a noticeable impact on cancer rates and mortality include:

Summary

Cancer is a set of diseases that cause illness and death to many people each year. Yearly, 1.9 million people are diagnosed with cancer in the United States and 680,000 die from it. It disproportionately impacts people of color and those of lower socioeconomic status. Black men have the highest rates of cancer and the worst survival statistics.

Many preventable causes of cancer exist. Americans can make significant strides in lowering cancer's death and incidence rates by reducing tobacco and alcohol use, losing excess weight, and increasing physical activity.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I avoid cancer?

    At least 42% of future cancer cases are avoidable through lifestyle changes. Some of the most common preventable causes and risk factors that lead to cancer are:

    • Tobacco use
    • Alcohol use
    • Excess body weight 
    • Physical inactivity
  • Is cancer genetic?

    Most of the time, there is no specific cause for cancer. Cancer is related to a genetic syndrome between 5% and 10% of the time. Sometimes its prevalence may be due to family history. Often it’s a combination of factors.

  • Is cancer always deadly?

    As a whole, 68.1% of people diagnosed with cancer are still alive five years later. Over the last several decades, the cancer survival rate has been improving—dropping 32% between 1991 and 2019.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Cancer Society. Risk of dying from cancer continues to drop at an accelerated pace.

  2. National Cancer Institute. What is cancer?

  3. National Cancer Institute. Cancer stat facts: cancer of any site.

  4. Centers for Disease Control. FastStats - cancer.

  5. National Cancer Institute. Cancer statistics.

  6. American Cancer Society. Family cancer syndromes.

  7. National Cancer Institute. Annual report to the nation 2021: overall cancer statistics.

By Jennifer Welsh
Jennifer Welsh is a Connecticut-based science writer and editor with over ten years of experience under her belt. She’s previously worked and written for WIRED Science, The Scientist, Discover Magazine, LiveScience, and Business Insider.