What Is the Deadliest Cancer?

Reviewed on 9/23/2020

Lung cancer is the deadliest cancer in the U.S., killing the most of any other cancers.
Lung cancer is the deadliest cancer in the U.S., killing the most of any other cancers.

Cancer describes a group of diseases in which abnormal cells grow out of control. 

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States; heart disease is the leading cause. In 2018, there were 599,274 cancer deaths. Overall cancer death rates are higher among males than females. In 2018, 283,721 cancer deaths were among females and 315,553 were among males. 

The American Cancer Society estimates the five most deadly cancers for 2020 in the U.S. are: 

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the leading cause of cancer death is lung cancer, which accounts for about 25% of all cancer deaths. More people die of lung cancer than of colorectal, breast, and prostate and cancers combined. Overall, men have a 1 in 15 chance of developing lung cancer in their lifetimes, and women have a 1 in 17 chance. The risk is much higher for smokers. 

Lung cancer includes both non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), which accounts for about 84% of all lung cancer cases, and small cell lung cancer (SCLC), which accounts for about 13% of cases, and lung carcinoid tumors, which account for fewer than 5% of lung tumors. Other types of lung cancer such as adenoid cystic carcinomas, lymphomas, and sarcomas, as well as benign lung tumors such as hamartomas are rare. Cancers that start in other organs (such as the breast, pancreas, kidney, or skin) can sometimes spread (metastasize) to the lungs, but these are not considered lung cancers. 

Most cases of lung cancer occur in people 65 years and older, with an average age of 70 years at diagnosis. Only a small number of people are diagnosed with lung cancer under age 45. 

The American Cancer Society estimates for lung cancer in the U.S. in 2020 are:

  • About 228,820 new cases of lung cancer (116,300 in men and 112,520 in women)
  • About 135,720 deaths from lung cancer (72,500 in men and 63,220 in women)

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Reviewed on 9/23/2020
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