A Closer Look at the Top 5 Deadliest Cancers


The Deadliest Cancers Examined

Cancer cell and Lymphocytes

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Cancer cells divide, grow and spread throughout the body. If physicians are unable to control the spread or metastases of cancer cells, death results

Various factors, both internal and external, cause cancer. Internal factors include genetic mutations, hormones, and immune conditions. External factors include smoking, unhealthy diet, and infectious disease. Often, it takes several years before such risk factors lead to cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, in 2019, an estimated 1,762,450 million new cases of cancer are expected among Americans, and 606,880 people will die of the disease.

Here are the five deadliest cancers.


Deadliest Cancer #1: Lung Cancer

Secondary lung cancer, X-ray

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Projected cases of lung and bronchus cancer in 2019: 228,150

Projected deaths caused by lung and bronchus cancer in 2019: 142,670

Unfortunately, most people with lung cancer initially present with advanced disease and will eventually die of the disease. Smoking—a modifiable risk factor—is far and away from the most common cause of lung cancer. Based on microscopic examination, lung cancer is divided into 2 types: small-cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. Depending on the type and stage of lung cancer, treatment can include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy.


Deadliest Cancer #2: Colorectal Cancer

Colon cancer

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Projected cases of colorectal cancer in 2019: 145,600

Projected deaths caused by colon cancer in 2019: 51,020

Initially, colorectal cancer presents with few or no symptoms. If caught early, colorectal cancer is treatable with encouraging 5-year survival rates. For example, survival rates for some people with early-stage colorectal cancer are around 90 percent. However, in order to survive colorectal cancer, screening like colonoscopy is imperative. Unfortunately, five-year survival rates for advanced colorectal cancer are much lower. Depending on the stage and spread of colorectal cancer, treatment can include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy or embolization


Deadliest Cancer #3: Breast Cancer

Breast cancer awareness

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Projected cases of breast cancer in 2019: 268,600

Projected deaths caused by breast cancer in 2019: 41,760

Breast cancer is caused by the malignant growth of cells lining the lobules or ducts of the breast. About one percent of all breast cancers affect men. Breast cancer arises from a clone or a single transformed cell. Typically, it takes time for such clonal cells to become fully malignant and invade and metastasize.

The treatment of breast cancer can get quite complicated and is based on numerous factors. Broadly, breast cancer treatment can be characterized as extensive (mastectomy) or breast-conserving (lumpectomy). In addition to local surgical therapy, adjuvant or systemic therapy is also given to treat people with breast cancer. Such adjuvant therapy can include chemotherapy or hormone therapy. Fortunately, with improvements in diagnostic and treatment capabilities, more people who are diagnosed with breast cancer survive.


Deadliest Cancer #4: Pancreatic Cancer

Human Pancreas Anatomy

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Projected cases of pancreatic cancer in 2019: 56,770

Projected deaths caused by pancreatic cancer in 2019: 45,750

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most aggressive cancers in existence. It kills quickly and besets the patient with multiple painful and dangerous symptoms including stomach pain, biliary obstruction, bleeding, ascites and more. Despite research into the subject, there are no good screening options or treatments for people pancreatic cancer.


Deadliest Cancer #5: Prostate Cancer

Blue ribbon symbolic of prostate cancer

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Projected cases of prostate cancer in 2019: 174,650

Projected deaths caused by prostate cancer in 2019: 31,620

The prostate is a gland found in men only. It sits in the middle of the lower pelvis nestled among the rectum and bladder. The prostate makes the seminal fluid which nourishes sperm.

Prostate cancer arises from glandular cells and is thus an adenocarcinoma. This disease usually affects older men and is most common among African Americans and those with a family history of the disease. Most prostate cancers are slow-growing, and people with asymptomatic prostate cancer are usually observed with no further treatment. In fact, many people with prostate cancer die of unrelated causes like a heart attack or stroke.

Treatment of prostate cancer includes surgical removal (prostatectomy), external beam radiation therapy (radiotherapy) and brachytherapy. Brachytherapy is a procedure in which radioactive iodine is implanted into the prostate.

Although asymptomatic older men were once routinely screened for prostate cancer by both digital rectal exam and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, in recent years, such routine screening has fallen out of favor among many medical experts. Although Medicare still covers such screening, many experts believe that benefits from such screening are negligible.

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Article Sources

  • American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2015. www.cancer.org.
  • Lippman ME. Chapter 90. Breast Cancer. In: Longo DL, Fauci AS, Kasper DL, Hauser SL, Jameson J, Loscalzo J. eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 18e. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2012.
  • Morgensztern D, Govindan R, Perry MC. Chapter 97. Lung Cancer. In: Halter JB, Ouslander JG, Tinetti ME, Studenski S, High KP, Asthana S. eds. Hazzard's Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology, 6e. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2009.
  • Pienta KJ. Chapter 96. Prostate Cancer. In: Halter JB, Ouslander JG, Tinetti ME, Studenski S, High KP, Asthana S. eds. Hazzard's Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology, 6e. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2009.