The Most Common Cancer in the U.S.

Most Common Cancers Diagnosed and Causing Death in the U.S.

meeting of physicians talking about the most common types of cancer
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Many people ask about the most common cause of cancer in the United States, both in men and women, but the answer is different depending on the precise question.

While the most common diagnosis of cancer is breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men, the most common cause of cancer deaths (the cancer that kills the most people) in both genders is lung cancer; even in non-smokers.

What is the most common cause of cancer and what is the most common cause of cancer deaths in the United States? How does this vary between men and women? What are the chances that you will develop cancer in your lifetime and what can you do to lower your risk?

What Is the Most Common Cancer in the United States?

Before answering this question it is important to know which question you are really asking. Is it, "What is the most common cause of cancer overall?" or "What is the most common cause of cancer deaths?"

Why? If your reason for asking the question is to see if there is anything you can do to lower your risk, the second question may be most important. If one cancer is more common than another but rarely causes death, and another is less common but often causes death, you may want to focus first on efforts to lower your risk of the less common but more deadly cancer.

What Is the Most Common Cancer Overall?

The most common type of cancer overall is skin cancer, responsible for more than a million cases of cancer in the United States yearly. That said, non-melanoma skin cancers—basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers—cause fewer than 1,000 deaths per year.

The most common diagnosis of cancer excluding skin cancer is breast cancer. It's estimated that in 2017 there will be 255,180 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in the United States.

This is followed by lung cancer (222,500 cases), colorectal cancer (135,430 cases), prostate cancer (161,360 cases), and melanoma (87,110 cases).

What Is the Most Common Cause of Cancer Deaths in the U.S.?

The most common cause of cancer deaths in both men and women, in the United States and worldwide, is lung cancer. It's estimated that in 2017 there will be about 155,870 deaths from lung cancer.

Many people dismiss lung cancer as being a smoker’s disease, but 10 percent to 20 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked. The majority of people diagnosed with lung cancer at this time are former—not current—smokers. 

Deaths from lung cancer account for more deaths than breast cancer (41,070), prostate cancer (26,730), and colon and rectal cancers (50,260) combined. In addition, while pancreatic cancer is not in the top ten of cancers diagnosed, it is the 4th leading cause of cancer deaths, estimated to cause 43,090 deaths in 2017.

Most Common Cancer Diagnosed in Women

In women, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed, with 252,710 women and 2,240 men expected to be diagnosed. These numbers are important. Men get breast cancer too, and one out of every 100 cases of breast cancer occurs in a man.

Most Common Cause of Cancer Death in Women

While many more women are diagnosed with breast cancer than lung cancer, lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related deaths in women. In 2017 it's expected that 71,280 women will die from lung cancer and 40,610 from breast cancer.

Lung cancer in women can be different than in men, and just like heart disease, the symptoms are often not only different than most people would guess, but vague. Currently, one in five women who develop lung cancer have never smoked, and lung cancer in young, never-smoking women is increasing in the U.S. Why? Nobody knows for sure, so having an awareness of symptoms is essential.

Most Common Cancer in Men

In men, prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer diagnosed. In 2017 it's expected that 161,360 men will develop prostate cancer. Thankfully, prostate cancer is very treatable, even in the advanced stages of the disease.

Most Common Cause of Cancer Death in Men

While prostate cancer is diagnosed more often in men, the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men is lung cancer as well. In 2017 it's expected that 84,590 men will die from lung cancer, compared to 26,730 from prostate cancer.

Even though lung cancer kills three times as many men as prostate cancer, not everyone is aware of this risk. If you smoked in the past, check out the lung cancer screening guidelines to see if you meet the criteria. It's thought that if we screened everyone who met these criteria, we could reduce the death rate from lung cancer by 20 percent.

Be Aware of Pancreatic Cancer

In looking at the disparity between the number of cases of cancer diagnosed, and the death rates from cancer, it's quickly apparent that pancreatic cancer is in some ways "the forgotten cancer." It's not on our radar screen as being in the top 10 cancers diagnosed, yet it falls in at number four for both men and women when it comes to deaths.

Pancreatic cancer is so deadly because it is usually diagnosed when it has spread to a degree in which surgery is no longer possible.

Just as you hear that it's important to examine your breasts (or to talk to your doctor about prostate screening if you are a man) it's important for everyone to be aware of the early symptoms of pancreatic cancer.

Cancer Prevention: How to Reduce Your Risk

While these cancer statistics may seem ominous, and it's terrifying to learn that one in two men and one in three women will develop cancer (not including skin cancer), we know that a significant number of cancers may be prevented with simple lifestyle changes.

When you think about cancer prevention, smoking probably comes to mind quickly, and it should. Smoking is the number one preventable cause of cancer. But what about non-smokers? Almost all of us know of someone who never smoked but got cancer—even lung cancer—anyway.

There are many simple steps you can take to lower your cancer risk. And although you may be thinking about BPA in water bottles, and chemicals in your cleaning supplies, one of the most likely culprits in cancer deaths may be hidden in the comfort of your home.

Radon Gas—which comes from the normal decay of uranium in the soil beneath our homes—is the second leading cause of lung cancer and the leading cause in non-smokers.

Comparing a few numbers may explain this a bit better. As noted above, it's thought that just over 40,000 women will die from breast cancer in 2017. At the same time, it's expected that 27,000 people will die from radon-induced lung cancer. While you may think of on-the-job chemicals as being most problematic, those at greatest risk of radon exposure are women and children.

This story isn't as ominous as it sounds. Can you imagine if we knew how to prevent over half of breast cancer deaths with a $10 test, and a painless procedure if needed? Take a look at those numbers again, and make sure you test your home for radon today. Every home in the U.S.(and most regions of the world) is potentially at risk. The only way to know if you are at risk is to test.

Finally, if you smoke, quit. Smoking causes many cancers, not just lung cancer, and is felt to be a factor in 30 percent of cancer deaths overall.

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