Top 10 Cancers Causing Death in Men in the U.S.

It's hard to hear the news of a cancer diagnosis, but that's what an estimated 970,250 men in the U.S. will experience in 2021. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among males (26%), followed by lung (12%) and colorectal (8%) cancers. It is lung cancer, however, that claims the most lives, causing 22% of all cancer deaths in men.

Man getting results from his doctor

Chinnapong / Getty Images

Thankfully, survival rates overall are improving, even for some difficult-to-treat cancers. Better treatments and early detection—especially for colon cancer—are saving lives. Still, for males, the average risk of developing cancer at some point in their lives is 40.5%, or nearly 1 in 2.

This article looks at the top 10 causes of cancer death in men in the United States and what you need to know to lower your risk.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer leads the list of fatal cancers in men. It is the reason for more deaths than the next two leading cancers—prostate and colorectal—combined.

Lung cancer is projected to cause 69,410 deaths in men in 2021.

Symptoms of lung cancer in men may include a persistent cough, coughing up blood, hoarseness, and shortness of breath.

Risk factors for lung cancer include smoking, but there are others. Among them is radon gas, the cause of up to 14% of all lung cancers across the globe and the leading cause among non-smokers.

Screening for lung cancer using computerized tomography (CT) has been found to lower the risk of lung cancer death by 20%. Annual screening is recommended for people who:

  • Are between ages 50 and 80
  • Have a 20 pack-year history of smoking
  • Currently smoke or quit smoking in the last 15 years
  • Would be able to tolerate or benefit from treatment if diagnosed with lung cancer

Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in men in the United States. It is responsible for an estimated 34,130 deaths in 2021.

If you're surprised that lung cancer deaths in men outrank prostate cancer deaths, the difference lies in the survival rates of the two diseases. There are far more men, roughly 1 in 8 across a lifetime, who are diagnosed with prostate cancer. But their survival rate at five years approaches 99% while lung cancer survival rates remain far lower.

Most men are diagnosed before they have prostate cancer symptoms. Be sure to let your healthcare provider know if you have a family history of prostate cancer, which may increase your risk for the disease.

Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer, meaning all cancers of the colon and rectum combined, are the third leading cause of cancer death in men.

Colon cancer screening for the general population can clearly save lives. A colonoscopy may detect early cancers in the colon.

Unlike some other screening tests in men, it accomplishes two purposes:

  • Primary prevention of colon cancer
  • Detection of disease when it's in the earliest and most treatable stages

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advises people who are at average risk to begin colon cancer screening at age 45. Depending on family history and colon-related medical conditions, colon screening may be started at a much younger age.

Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most fatal cancer in men. It occurs far less often than prostate or even colon cancers, but the survival rate remains quite poor.

The overall five-year survival rate is 10%, but that drops to just 3% when people are diagnosed at the later stage of the disease. Unfortunately, most of them are, in large part because early-stage symptoms are either vague or non-existent.

There is currently no screening test for the general population, but screening may be needed for some people with a genetic predisposition. Because there may be a genetic element, it's a good idea to share a thorough family medical history with your healthcare provider.

Liver and Bile Duct Cancer

Cancers of the liver and bile duct are the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men in the U.S. 

If a cancer originates in the liver, it's called primary liver cancer. It's important to distinguish liver cancer from metastases to the liver, as many people who speak of liver cancer are actually referring to cancer that has spread to the liver from other regions of the body.

Common symptoms of liver cancer include jaundice, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain. Currently, there is no general screening test available for liver cancer. Testing may be recommended for some people at risk, such as people with chronic hepatitis B infection or cirrhosis.

Leukemia

Leukemia is not one disease but rather several types of blood-related cancer. They include:

The causes of leukemia vary depending upon the type. Because it's a blood-related cancer, symptoms are not usually related to one specific region of the body. In addition, symptoms of leukemia often overlap with those of other conditions.

Improvements in leukemia treatment have been encouraging. For example, ALL—the type most common in children—used to be rapidly fatal. The five-year survival rate is now 91% in children and 75% in adolescents. For adults, depending on the kind of leukemia, survival rates range from 26% to 86%.

Despite an inability to "cure" some cancers, the idea is that many cancers will eventually be managed as chronic diseases like diabetes is now.

Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer is the seventh most fatal cancer in men in the United States. There are two primary types of cancer of the esophagus:

  • Adenocarcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma

These differ by the types of cells in which the cancer began. Squamous cell carcinoma was more common in the past, but adenocarcinoma is now the most common form of the disease. The risk factors vary depending on the type of esophageal cancer.

Symptoms of esophageal cancer may include a cough, hoarseness, trouble with swallowing, or a feeling of something stuck in the throat. Esophageal cancer is often diagnosed in the later stages of the disease, in part because the symptoms are common in other conditions too.

The overall five-year survival rate for esophageal cancer is 20% and varies considerably with the stage at diagnosis. The five-year survival rate for people who have the disease diagnosed locally is 47%. It drops to 5% for those who have a distant spread of the disease.

Bladder Cancer

Bladder cancer is the eighth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, and the fourth most common cancer diagnosed in men. An estimated 64,280 men will receive a diagnosis in the U.S. in 2021.

There are several types of bladder cancer, the most common being transitional cell carcinoma.

In roughly 50% of men, bladder cancer is diagnosed at an early stage when it affects only the inner layer of cells in the bladder. This underscores the need to know the risk factors and symptoms in the hopes of an early diagnosis, especially because there is not yet a general screening tool.

Smoking is believed to be the cause in almost 50% of men with bladder cancer.

Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) is the ninth most fatal cancer in men. This cancer begins in the lymphatic system, which is part of your immune system.

Specifically, NHL starts in lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell found in structures called lymph nodes. These nodes are found in various locations, including the neck, armpits, between the lungs, and others.

There are over 30 types of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. They are broken down into two major groups depending on whether the affected lymphocytes are B cells or T cells. The behavior of these tumors varies widely, with some lymphomas being very slow-growing and others being quite aggressive.

Symptoms of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma depend on what lymph nodes are affected, although it's important to note that this type of cancer tends to spread throughout the system before it is found.

Some risk factors differ from those implicated in other cancers. These may include:

  • Long-term infections such as Helicobacter pylori
  • Exposures to work or household chemicals and pesticides
  • Radiation exposure

Since there are so many types and subtypes of NHL, it's hard to talk about prognosis. However, the overall five-year survival rate of people with NHL is approximately 73%.

Brain and Other Nervous System Cancers

Brain cancer, along with related nervous system cancers, is the 10th most common cause of cancer-related deaths in men in the U.S.

Symptoms can include:

  • Headache
  • Seizure
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurred vision

These cancers are primary brain and nervous system cancers, like gliomas or central nervous system (CNS) lymphoma. That means they did not start somewhere else, like the lung, and spread there.

Diagnosis usually is done on the basis of a physical exam, a CT or other imaging, and possibly biopsy. Surgery to treat brain cancer may be an option, but chemotherapy and radiation are likely options.

Summary

New screening guidelines, treatments, and other advances in cancer care mean that many people are living with the disease longer. Still, the number of people affected by these top 10 fatal cancers in men is substantial and concerning. Lung cancer leads the list by a notable margin.

It's important to be familiar with your cancer risks and the fact that some cancers can be "silent threats," meaning they don't typically produce symptoms until they are advanced.

Talk to your healthcare provider to get a better sense of your personal risk factors and take all of the steps you can to prevent cancer.

Was this page helpful?
21 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. Cancer facts & figures 2021. Updated June 28, 2021.

  2. Lou Y, Dholaria B, Soyano A, et al. Survival trends among non-small-cell lung cancer patients over a decade: impact of initial therapy at academic centers. Cancer Med. 2018;7(10):4932-4942. doi:10.1002/cam4.1749

  3. American Cancer Society. Key statistics for lung cancer. Updated January 12, 2021.

  4. Li C, Wang C, Yu J, et al. Residential radon and histological types of lung cancer: a meta-analysis of case‒control studiesInt J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(4):1457. doi:10.3390/ijerph17041457

  5. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for lung cancer: US Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statementJAMA. 2021;325(10):962–970. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.1117

  6. American Cancer Society. Key statistics for prostate cancer. Updated January 12, 2021.

  7. American Cancer Society. Survival rates for prostate cancer. Updated February 2, 2021.

  8. American Cancer Society. Colorectal cancer screening: what are my options? Updated February 5, 2021.

  9. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Colorectal cancer: screening. Updated May 18, 2021.

  10. American Cancer Society. Survival rates for pancreatic cancer. Updated February 12, 2021.

  11. American Cancer Society. Signs and symptoms of liver cancer. Updated April 1, 2019.

  12. National Cancer Institute. Esophageal cancer.

  13. American Cancer Society. Signs and symptoms of esophageal cancer. Updated March 20, 2020.

  14. American Cancer Society. Survival rates for esophageal cancer. Updated January 29, 2021.

  15. American Cancer Society. Key statistics for bladder cancer. Updated January 12, 2021.

  16. Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma types. Updated September 21, 2021.

  17. American Cancer Society. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma risk factors. Updated June 9, 2020.

  18. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Lymphoma - non-Hodgkin: statistics. Updated September 10, 2021.

  19. American Cancer Society. Signs and symptoms of adult brain and spinal cord tumors. Updated May 5, 2020.

  20. American Cancer Society. Types of brain and spinal cord tumors in adults. Updated May 5, 2020.

  21. American Cancer Society. Tests for brain and spinal cord tumors in adults. Updated May 5, 2020.