The 10 Most Common Types of Cancer in the United States

Updated: Mar. 15, 2021

Early detection and game-changing new treatments are making headway against the 10 most common types of cancer in the United States.

Although new cases of cancer may have climbed by roughly 24 percent in men and 21 percent in women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, doctors and researchers are making headway against the disease thanks to new techniques and treatments. You can learn more about some of the most common types of cancer below—along with how care for these patients is improving.

Skin cancer

This is one of the most common types of cancer, period. More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the United States than all other cancers combined, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. In fact, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70, and one person dies of melanoma, the potentially fatal form of skin cancer, every hour.

Prevention is basic: Protect your skin from the sun. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day, avoid the sun when it is strongest (midday), check your skin every month, and get a professional skin exam at least once a year.

There are now a handful of newer drugs that can potentially cure melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer—even after it has started to spread, says Mark D. Kaufmann, MD, a dermatologist at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He points to medications that target the immune system such as PD-1 and CTLA-4-blockers. A drug called Cemiplimab approved in 2018 will treat advanced squamous cell carcinoma (the second deadliest form); the FDA granted accelerated approval to Bavencio (avelumab) for another type of skin cancer called Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC). This is the first FDA-approved treatment for spreading MCC.

Breast cancer

For women, this may be one of the scarier types of cancer: There will be about 276,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed in the United States in 2020, according to the American Cancer Society. A woman’s average risk of developing breast cancer sometime in her life is about 12 percent. The good news? “Early detection is really saving lives,” says Laurie Margolies, MD, a radiologist and associate professor at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Some of the most exciting developments in treatment include the recognition that not all breast cancers are the same. “There are many different subtypes, and the more we know about individual breast cancer, the more tailored our treatment can be,” Dr. Margolies says. Tailored treatments tend to have fewer side effects than other therapies because they zero in on specific cancer cells instead of launching a broader attack on all cells.

Lung cancer

This brutal disease is the leading cause of cancer death in men and women. In 2020, there will be about 228,820 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed in the United States, and 135,720 people will die from this disease, according to the American Cancer Society. The single biggest risk factor is no surprise, so don’t smoke—and if you do, quit by whatever means necessary.

Lung cancer screening remains extremely underutilized, says Nicholas Rohs, MD, a hematologist/oncologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Low-dose CT scans can identify lung cancer when it’s in its most treatable forms. Screening doesn’t make sense for everyone, but for those at high risk it saves lives, he says. “If you are aged 55 to 80 and have smoked a pack or day for 30 years and you get screened, you are 20 percent less likely to die from lung cancer.” Talk to your doctor to see if this type of screening is right for you.

It’s a whole new day when it comes to treating and beating lung cancer, he says. “Genomics has revolutionized the face of lung cancer. We can now subtype lung cancers and choose treatments based on specific characteristics of the tumor,” he explains. “Targeted therapies are oral, well-tolerated startlingly effective.”

Lung cancer, pleural effusionTewan Banditrukkanka/Shutterstock

Prostate cancer

The prostate is a walnut-sized gland just below the bladder in men; this is one of the types of cancer that is a leading cause of new cases in men—it’s also the second leading cause of cancer death for men, according to the American Cancer Society. Screening recommendations have changed over the years, says Bobby Liaw, MD an oncologist at Mount Sinai. Hospital in New York City. Blood tests that measure levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) were once broadly recommended for all men older than 50. “This caught tons and tons of prostate cancers but many were low-risk and not clinically relevant, so the pendulum swung far away from screening.” Today, screening is an individual decision based on a man’s risk factors. One welcome advancement: “We can test cancer cells to learn how or if the cancer will progress, and then use this information guide treatment options,” Dr. Liaw says.

Colorectal cancer

This is a frustrating one for oncologists: Colorectal cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths among men and women. The American Cancer Society estimates that there will 104,610 new cases of colon cancer and 43,340 new cases of rectal cancer diagnosed in the United States in 2020.

Due to an uptick in colon cancers seen in young people, the screening guidelines have changed. The American Cancer Society now recommends that people at average risk of colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45. Colorectal cancer often starts as a polyp inside the colon or rectum; finding and removing these polyps can prevent colorectal cancer. (Yes, at-home colon screening kits are a thing.) Talk to your doctor about when and how you should be screened for colon cancer.

Researchers are trying to define colorectal cancer sub-types based on genetic mutations in the cancer cells, how the cells look and behave, how fast the cells are dividing, which can help guide treatment choices.

Bladder cancer

In 2020, there will be about 81,400 new cases of bladder cancer diagnosed in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. Smoking is a major risk factor. Bladder cancer usually affects more men than women, and it often develops in people over the age of 55. As is true with other types of cancer, bladder tumors come in different types; researchers are beginning to identify genetic changes in bladder cancer cells that may predict how aggressive the tumor is and how best to treat it, according to the American Cancer Society.

Endometrial cancer

This cancer falls under the umbrella category of uterine cancer because it develops in the lining of the uterus (the endometrium). About 65,620 new cases of uterine cancer will be diagnosed in 2020, according to the American Cancer Society, (ACS), and about 12,590 women will die from these cancers during the same year.

The average age of diagnosis is 60, but there has been a pronounced uptick of endometrial cancer diagnoses in younger women, says Shannon Westin, MD, a gynecologic oncologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. This is likely due to the obesity epidemic. “Fat cells produce the female sex hormone estrogen, and all of this extra estrogen can build up in the body and increase endometrial cancer risk.” Losing weight may help lower risk for endometrial cancer. Endometrial cancer is usually treatable with surgery when it’s caught early.

Kidney cancer

The incidence of kidney cancer has been slowly rising since the 1970s, but thankfully deaths from the cancer are declining, according to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. There will be 73,750 new cases of kidney cancer diagnosed in 2019.

While there are tests that can detect certain kidney cancers early, they’ve yet to be approved for people at average risk. Treatment for kidney cancer is improving: Several types of targeted therapies that zero in on molecular and genetic changes in cells that cause kidney cancer are typically the first-line treatment. Researchers are now looking at combining these drugs to see if they work better together, according to the American Cancer Society.

Liver cancer

Blurry MRI. Abdomen 6 film showing mass in the liver image too soft and selective focusRichman Photo/ShutterstockLiver cancer incidence has more than tripled since 1980, according to the American Cancer Society. The reasons appear to be the increase in risk factors including obesity, diabetes, and untreated hepatitis, per the American Cancer Society. There will be about 42,810 new cases of liver cancer diagnosed in 2020, and about 30,160 people will die of this cancer. Researchers are studying ways to prevent or treat hepatitis infections before they cause liver cancers.

“From 2007 to 2017, there was only one FDA-approved drug for liver cancer. Now there are five, a sixth will likely be approved soon, and there is another on the horizon,” says Thomas Karasic, MD, an assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Hematology-Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “Most of the new pills work by cutting off blood supply to the tumor,” he explains. “There is also excitement about two immunotherapy agents approved to treat liver cancer.” Immunotherapy drugs encourage immune cells to recognize and attack tumors by targeting key immune cell proteins. “We know that 20 percent of people with liver cancer who respond to immunotherapy do really well, but now that there are drugs approved we are trying them earlier and after surgery,” Dr. Karasic says. (Here are the things that cancer doctors to do prevent cancer.)

Pancreatic cancer

This gland in the abdomen helps you digest food and control blood sugar levels. About 57,600 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2020 and about 47.050 people will die from this cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Pancreatic cancer has a reputation for being stealthy and lethal—doctors don’t typically catch it until it has begun to spread. “There has been a lot of ongoing research on blood marker and special at-risk populations such as those with a family history or precancerous pancreatic cysts,” Dr. Karasic says. “There are screening protocols for people with cysts and other high-risk patients in large academic places.” Catching it earlier represents the best chance for a cure. “New chemotherapy regimens are proving to be more effective than older ones, and the number of people who are cured by surgery and chemotherapy is drifting higher by a bit,” he says. Next, find out the 30 simple ways you can prevent cancer.