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Which Cancers Are the Most Common?

By Dr. Michael Sarap

Chairman of the Department of Surgery, Trauma and Cancer Committees and Director of the Breast Care and Colorectal Cancer Teams at Southeastern Med

Cancer is defined as a disease resulting from the uncontrolled growth and division of cells. That’s the simple way to explain it. On a more complicated level, of course, cancer is actually a multitude of conditions that can affect almost every type of cell and tissue in the body. It can occur when genetic mistakes happen during cell growth and division in our bodies, resulting in abnormal tissue being replicated and replacing and outgrowing normal tissue. The genetic mistakes or mutations can be hereditary or can be a result of external factors like exposure to tobacco, radiation, chemicals, or other substances.  Each part of the human body can develop its own type of cancer, and some are more prevalent than others. Some are also more deadly than others in terms of average survival rates.

Oncology is the specialty that studies cancer, and from the gathering of data in this field we can understand which types of cancer are the most common. It can also reveal which cancers are more likely to cause death. This information is incredibly valuable to those individuals and groups working to find ways to prevent cancers and to detect cancers at an earlier stage to allow for more successful treatments and, ultimately, cures.

The three most common cancers that occur in men in the U.S. are prostate, lung, and colon cancer, in that order. In women the most common are breast, lung, and colon cancer. In terms of total annual cancer deaths, lung cancer is at the top of the list for both men and women, with prostate and colon cancer ranking second and third for men, and breast cancer and colon cancer as the next most common for women.

The graph below from the American Cancer Society depicts the rates of new cancer cases and the numbers of deaths from specific cancers in men and women in the U.S. As you can see, some cancers that happen with less frequency, such as pancreatic cancer (3% of all cancer cases in men and women), can pose more of a threat to life (8% of all cancer deaths). Other more common cancers, such as prostate cancer in men (21% of all cases), indicate better survival rates (10% of male cancer deaths). Of course, many other factors–such as how early a cancer is detected, and the age and overall health of the patient–will play a very big role in each individual case. So it’s important to see these larger numbers and trends as a broad guide; not as any strict predictor of a patient’s recovery.

These final graphs look more closely at cancer cases handled specifically here at Southeastern Med during a recent 5-year period. This gives some insight into the prevalence of certain cancers within our own community, with breast cancer, lung cancer, and colon cancer still ranking as the most commonly treated.


Do you have any questions or concerns? Please give Southeastern Med’s Cancer Services team a call at 740.439.2771.

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