This article presents an overview of statistics related to cancer worldwide and in the United States. It covers three aspects: prevalence and incidence of cancer, mortality trends, and survival rates.

Some trends are alarming while some offer comfort on the progress of cancer screening and early treatment among the population.

Cancer is a general term for a group of diseases that can affect any part of the body. Other terms used for cancer are malignancy and neoplasms.

An important characteristic feature of cancer is the uncontrolled rapid proliferation of cancer cells that can then invade the neighboring tissues of the body and even spread to other distant organs by a process called metastasis. This is the main cause of death from cancer.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC ) estimates that globally, 1 in 5 people develop cancer during their lifetime (that is 20 percent).

One in 8 men and 1 in 11 women die from this dreaded disease after having lived in constant dread for a few years post-diagnosis. These new estimates suggest that more than 50 million people worldwide are still alive for the past five years after having being diagnosed with cancer.

10% of the people who have been cured of cancer will get cancer again a second time. This is probably due to hereditary predisposition or lifestyle habits such as drinking alcohol, smoking, obesity, environmental factors, and probably due to exposure to radiation during the treatment of first cancer.

About 30% of cancer deaths can be prevented by a change of lifestyle habits such as stopping smoking, losing weight if you are obese, taking to physical activity, controlling alcohol intake, and eating vegetables and fruits.

Why are cancer statistics important?

Medical research begins and ends with statistical data. Data that is collected, analyzed, and reported helps in the outcome of clinical trials.

Cancer statistics tell us how many people are diagnosed with cancer in a particular country and worldwide, how many died, the age of diagnosis and that of death, sex, ethnicity, location, and trends.

These figures are necessary for governments and policymakers to draft policy. They are essential for medical professionals and researchers to grasp the impact of cancer on the population. This helps to draft strategies to address the challenges that cancer poses to society.

Studies on cancer statistics form an important part of cancer research and a compelling reason to take it to the next level. Statistics, which include the incidence and prevalence of the disease along with mortality rates give an idea to the medical fraternity of the need to improve the controlling factors of the disease.

A glance at cancer statistics worldwide

Cancer is the second most common cause of death worldwide and in the United States, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths worldwide in 2020.

You can develop cancer in any organ or part of the body. Breast cancer in women is the most common. We have here the worldwide figures of 2020 of the various cancers that were diagnosed in 2020.

  • breast (2.26 million cases)
  • lung (2.21 million cases)
  • colon and rectum (1.93 million cases)
  • prostate (1.41 million cases)
  • skin (non-melanoma) (1.20 million cases)
  • stomach (1.09 million cases)

However, mortality wise the cancer figures differ. Lung cancer is the most common form of cancer to cause death.

  • lung (1.80 million deaths)
  • colon and rectum (935 000 deaths)
  • liver (830 000 deaths)
  • stomach (769 000 deaths)
  • breast (685 000 deaths)

Each year, about 175,000 children aged 14 and under are diagnosed with cancer worldwide. The three most common types of cancer in children by prevalence are:

  • Leukemia or blood cancer accounts for 34%
  • Brain tumors account for 23%, and
  • Lymphomas account for 12%.

Comparing the current figures with the past can help to predict the figures for the future.

  • In 2018, there were 18.1 million newly diagnosed cancer cases and 9.5 million deaths due to cancer worldwide.
  • By 2040, the figure is expected to rise to 29.5 million and the mortality figure due to cancer is expected to rise to 16.4 million.

By and large, cancer rates are high in countries with the highest life expectancy, literacy rate, and where the population enjoys a high standard of living. However, for certain cancers such as cervical cancer, the incidence rate is high in countries that rank low on these factors.

In developed countries, where the healthcare machinery is strong, survival rates of many types of cancers are improving. This is due to early detection and prompt treatment and patient care post-treatment.

A glance at the U.S. cancer statistics

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States outranked only by cardiovascular disease.

In the United States, 1 in 2 women and 1 in 3 men will develop cancer in their lifetime and one in four people die of it.

The most common cancers are breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, melanoma of the skin, bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, kidney cancer, endometrial cancer, leukemia, pancreatic cancer, thyroid cancer, and liver cancer.

In 2020, prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers accounted for approximately 43% of all cancers diagnosed in men.

In women, the three most common cancers diagnosed are breast, lung, and colorectal, and they accounted for about 50% of all cancer cases diagnosed in women.

The incidence of newly diagnosed cancer cases was 442 per 100,000 men and women per year, while the mortality rate was 158.3 per 100,000 men and women per year (based on 2013–2017 records).

The mortality rate due to cancer is higher among men than in women. In men, cancer mortality is 189.5 per 100,000 men and in women, it is 135.7 per 100,000 women.

Deaths due to cancer are highest among African American men (227.3 per 100,000) and lowest among Asian/Pacific Islander women (85.6 per 100,000).

Based on 2015–2017 data, it is estimated that approximately 39.5% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some time during their lifetimes

U.S. cancer mortality trends

In the United States, there has been a decline in the overall cancer death rate since the early 1990s.

According to the most recent Annual Report to the Nation,  released in March 2020, the overall cancer death rates decreased. Here are the figures that indicate a decrease by percentage:

  • 1.8% per year among men from 2001 to 2017
  • 1.4% per year among women from 2001 to 2017
  • 1.4% per year among children ages 0–14 from 2013 to 2017

Although these death rates for some types of cancer have decreased, the figures for some other cancers have not changed or have even increased.

U.S. cancer survival trends

A cancer survivor is defined as anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer and is still surviving from the time he or she was diagnosed through the balance of his or her life.

According to a report released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute, the following statistics of cancer survivors is encouraging.

  1. In 1971, there were 3 million cancer survivors.
  2. In 2001, there were 9.8 million survivors.
  3. In 2007, there were 11.7 million survivors.
  • Of these 11.7 million, 7 million were 65 years or older.
  • Women formed 54% of this figure.
  • Breast cancer survivors formed the largest group of these (22%), followed by prostate cancer (19%) followed by survivors of colorectal cancer (10%).
  • Of these 11.7 million cancer survivors, 4.7 million survivors were diagnosed 10 years or earlier.
  1. Today, there are more than 16.9 million surviving from cancer.
  • About 67% of these cancer survivors were diagnosed 5 or more years ago.
  • About 17% of the survivors were diagnosed 20 or more years ago.
  • Nearly half (47%) of survivors are aged 70 years or more.

As mentioned above cancer statistics do form an important and integral part of cancer research. Discouraging figures help to make cancer research more active and bring out the need to further educate the people of the need for early diagnosis or better still, preventive measures.

Information about the incidence of this disease plays a vital role in forming a strategy for cancer research, which will help to bring down the cancer mortality rate.

These trends of declining death rate and increasing survival rate show that good progress is being made against the disease, though a lot more still remains to be done.

Although the rates of certain risk factors such as smoking have declined, the rates of other risk factors, such as obesity, have increased in the United States. Check out the obesity statistics for the U.S. Secondly, the U.S. population is growing old, and the incidence of cancer increase with age.


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