The Most Common Cancer in the U.S.

People often ask about the most common causes of cancer in the United States, both for males and females. Yet this question could mean two different things.

The answers will depend on whether you define it as the cancers that are most frequently diagnosed, or rather the cancers that most often lead to terminal illness and death.

This article looks at the statistics behind those definitions and how the answers may differ depending on the sex you were assigned at birth. It also looks at steps you may take to lower your risk.

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Cases Versus Deaths

Each year, the American Cancer Society updates its facts and figures on cancer in the U.S. In 2022, they project that more than 1.9 million new cases will be diagnosed, with 609,360 cancer deaths. These numbers include all types of cancer.

A closer look at the statistics reveals that while some cancers occur more often, with proper treatment their survival rates are better. Others occur less frequently but will more often prove fatal.

For example, breast cancer in 2022 will account for nearly a third of all cancer diagnoses in females. But while there will be fewer cases of lung cancer, it will still claim more lives than breast cancer.

This understanding may change the way people perceive their own risks about the cancers that may affect them. That's especially important for some ethnic and minority groups that historically have been more vulnerable to the impacts of cancer.

Keep in mind that your cancer mortality risk depends on other factors beyond numbers, including its stage when diagnosed. For example, fewer lung cancers are diagnosed at the advanced stage today but more are found at earlier stages. Early detection may make a real difference in cancer outcomes.

The Most Common Cancer Diagnosis

The most common type of cancer overall is skin cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It's a good example of the principle at work when talking about what "most common" means.

That's because, although they account for the great majority of skin cancers, the two most common types (basal cell and squamous cell cancer) are rarely fatal. Though much less common, melanoma is responsible for nearly all skin cancer deaths.

Because they occur so frequently and are so rarely fatal, basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers are usually not included in lists of most common cancer diagnoses.

Apart from those, the most common diagnoses projected overall in 2022 are:

The definition of most common also is shaped by the way specific cancers are reported. Lymphoma, a type of blood cancer, will account for 89,010 cases in 2022. Yet it's divided into two distinct types. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma accounts for 80,470 of them, so it ranks below bladder cancer though all lymphomas combined are more common.

The Leading Cause of Cancer Deaths

The most common cause of overall cancer deaths in the U.S. is lung cancer. This is true for both males and females.

The top causes of cancer deaths for males and females combined are:

  • Lung cancer: 130,180
  • Colorectal cancer: 52,580
  • Pancreatic cancer: 49,830
  • Breast cancer: 43,780
  • Prostate cancer: 34,500

Comparing diagnoses and deaths side-by-side, it's clear that lung cancer poses a greater threat of death, even though there are more cases of breast cancer or prostate cancer each year. It's also easier to see that a less common cancer like pancreatic cancer is deadlier.

Overall Top Cancer Diagnoses
  • Skin cancer

  • Breast cancer

  • Prostate cancer

  • Lung cancer

  • Colorectal cancer

Overall Top Cancer Deaths
  • Lung cancer

  • Colorectal cancer

  • Pancreatic cancer

  • Breast cancer

  • Prostate cancer

Cancer in Women

In people assigned female at birth, breast cancer was expected to be the most common cancer diagnosis in 2022. The five most frequently diagnosed cancers were projected as:

  • Breast cancer: 31% of all diagnoses
  • Lung and bronchus cancer: 3%
  • Colorectal cancers: 8%
  • Uterine cancer: 7%
  • Melanoma: 5%

Keep in mind that men can get breast cancer too. An estimated 2,710 cases of breast cancer in men were projected for 2022. The lifetime risk for breast cancer is 1 in 883 men.

The types of cancer that most often lead to cancer death in females are:

  • Lung and bronchus cancers: 21% of all deaths
  • Breast cancer: 15%
  • Colorectal cancers: 8%
  • Pancreatic cancer: 8%
  • Ovarian, uterine, and liver cancers: each type accounting for 4% of deaths

Researchers have seen a more than 80% rise in lung cancer cases in women across four decades. This is true despite cases dropping overall and lower rates of lung cancer in men.

Lung cancer in women can be different than in men. Just as with heart disease, the symptoms are often vague. It's essential to know these symptoms and warning signs.

Cancer in Men

In people assigned male at birth, the most common cancer diagnoses in 2022 were projected to be:

  • Prostate cancer: 27% of cases
  • Lung and bronchus cancer: 12%
  • Colorectal cancer: 8%
  • Urinary bladder cancer: 6%
  • Melanoma: 6%

For people assigned male at birth, the most common causes of cancer deaths in 2022 are projected to be:

  • Lung and bronchus: 21% of all deaths
  • Prostate cancer: 11%
  • Colorectal cancers: 9%
  • Pancreatic cancers: 8%
  • Liver and liver-related cancers: 6%

Prostate cancer is a good example of why a cancer can be more "common" but less fatal. There are 268,490 new prostate cancer cases expected in 2022. That's more than one-fourth of all cancer diagnoses in males. Yet it will only lead to 11% of cancer deaths in 2022, or some 34,500 people.

Cancer Prevention: How to Reduce Your Risk

While these cancer statistics may seem ominous, there are many simple steps you can take to lower your cancer risk. In many cases, these steps will involve comparatively simple lifestyle changes.

Some of these changes include:

Summary

It may seem like these cancer statistics are just a lot of numbers, but understanding them is key to knowing your cancer risk and how to prevent it. The "most common cancer" answers are almost always different, depending on if you mean how often they happen or how often people are dying from them. Clearly, the cancer types and risks also change for men and women.

That said, lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women. Keep that in mind as you seek to reduce your cancer risk. Avoid smoking, be sure to test your home for radon gas exposure, and make other lifestyle choices that will protect your health.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is cancer so common?

    Cancer might be considered common because people today live longer lives than ever before. The risk of cancer increases with age. Life expectancy has dramatically increased since the 1960's, which means the likelihood of being diagnosed with cancer has increased.

  • What is the greatest risk factor for cancer?

    The greatest risk factor for cancer will differ by each cancer type. For example, the risk of developing lung cancer is 15 to 30 times greater for people who smoke cigarettes compared to people who do not. Similarly, human papillomavirus (HPV) is believed to be associated with 91% of cancers of the cervix.

8 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. Siegel RL, Miller KD, Fuchs HE, Jemal A. Cancer statistics, 2022CA A Cancer J Clinicians. 2022;72(1):7-33.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Skin Cancer.

  3. American Academy of Dermatology. Skin Cancer.

  4. Breastcancer.org. U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics.

  5. American Lung Association. Lung Cancer Fact Sheet.

  6. Cancer Research UK. Why Are Cancer Rates Increasing?

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). What Are the Risk Factors for Lung Cancer?

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). How Many Cancers Are Linked With HPV Each Year?

Additional Reading