The 20 most common types of cancer: causes, symptoms and treatment - medical - 2023



The most common cancers in the world are lung and breast, followed by others with also a high incidence.

An estimated 18 million cancers are diagnosed each year worldwide, and that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 2 men will develop some type of cancer in their lifetime.

Being the second cause of mortality worldwide, oncology research is one of the great challenges of science in this century.

Advances in medicine and the other life sciences have gradually made us better understand the nature of cancer cells, allowing the development of treatments and setting healthy lifestyles that reduce the chances of suffering from cancer.

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How many types of cancers are there?

Although prevention is a key factor in the fight against cancer, it is not always possible to stop the development of cancer cells. These tumors can develop anywhere in the human body, which explains the difficulty in understanding their nature.

That is why there are more than 200 different types of cancers, each one of them having peculiarities that make it differentiate itself from the others both due to causes, symptoms, evolution and associated treatments.

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In this article we will review the 20 most common types of cancer in the world, analyzing the causes that lead to its development and the symptoms that they produce.

Cancer cell.

The 20 types of cancer with the highest incidence

Worldwide, the most common cancers are lung and breast cancers, accounting for about 25% of all diagnosed cancers.

Here are the cancers that had the highest incidence in 2018, marking the cases that were diagnosed that year.

1. Lung cancer: 2 million new cases

Lung cancer is the most common type of cancer and the one that causes the most deaths worldwide. Smoking is the leading cause behind lung cancers, for both active and passive smokers. However, it can also develop in people who have never smoked or lived with tobacco users; in which case the causes are not too clear.

Generally, lung cancer does not cause symptoms in the early stages of its development, but rather they appear when the disease is more advanced. These symptoms are usually the following:

  • Cough (sometimes with blood)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hoarseness
  • Chest pain
  • Weightloss
  • Pain in bones and head

2. Breast cancer: 2 million new cases

Although it can occur in both sexes, breast cancer is much more common in women, being the type of cancer that is diagnosed more times in them. An early detection of the tumor is essential to increase the survival rate.

The causes that lead to its development are not very clear, as it usually occurs due to a complex interaction between genetics and the environment. It has been observed that there are risk factors related to hormones and lifestyle, although there are times that people with these risk factors never develop breast cancer and others without these factors, yes.

The most common symptoms of breast cancer are:

  • Lump in breast
  • Morphological changes in the breast
  • Dimpled breast
  • Sinking of the nipple
  • Flaking and crusting of the skin around the nipple
  • Redness of the breast

3. Colorectal cancer: 1.8 million new cases

Colorectal cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the large intestine (colon) and that can reach the anal rectum. It usually affects adults over 50 years of age.

Doctors do not know exactly what are the causes that lead to this type of cancer, but it is known that there are some risk factors that can increase the risk of developing it: advanced age, chronic inflammatory bowel conditions, family history, diets with low fiber content and high in fat, sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, obesity, smoking, alcohol ...

The most common symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Change in stool consistency
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Weightloss
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Abdominal pain

4. Prostate cancer: 1.2 million new cases

This type of cancer occurs in the prostate, a gland in men that produces seminal fluid., a means of nourishing and transporting sperm. Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in men.

Despite not knowing exactly the causes, doctors do know that there are certain risk factors: advanced age, race (it is more common in African-American men), obesity and family history.

Symptoms, which appear in advanced stages of the disease, are as follows:

  • Blood in semen
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Problems urinating
  • Discomfort in the pelvic area
  • Bone pain

5. Skin cancer (non-melanoma): 1 million new cases

Skin cancer usually develops in areas of the epidermis exposed to the sun, although it can also do it in those in which solar radiation does not affect. The “non-melanoma” group includes all those skin cancers that occur without the formation of a melanoma (about 280,000 cases of this type are reported per year).

The main cause of skin cancer is excessive exposure to the sun without protection, since ultraviolet radiation causes damage to cells causing them to become cancerous. However, there are other risk factors: having fair skin, presence of moles on the skin, weakening of the immune system, family history, skin lesions, etc.

Although they vary greatly depending on the area of ​​the body in which it develops, the most common symptoms of skin cancer are:

  • Development of ulcers
  • Brown lesions
  • Lumps on the skin
  • Bleeding moles
  • Itchy lesions

6. Stomach cancer: 1 million new cases

Stomach cancer develops in the mucus-producing cells that line the stomach, usually on top of it.

One of the main causes of developing stomach cancer is suffering from gastroesophageal reflux, and to a lesser extent, smoking and obesity. It is also believed that a diet in which many salty and smoked foods and few fruits and vegetables are consumed can lead to the development of this type of cancer. There are also other risk factors: family history, bacterial infections, stomach inflammation, anemia ...

The most common symptoms caused by stomach cancer are:

  • Fatigue
  • Bloated feeling
  • Fast satiety
  • Indigestion
  • Frequent vomiting
  • Slimming
  • Sickness
  • Stomachache
  • Heartburn

7. Liver cancer: 840,000 new cases

Liver cancer develops in liver cells. Hepatitis is believed to lead to the development of the tumor, although it can also occur in previously healthy people, in which case the causes are not too clear.

However, there are risk factors: excessive alcohol consumption, cirrhosis, diabetes, exposure to aflatoxins, family history, etc.

Although in the early stages it is asymptomatic, the most frequent symptoms are:

  • Weightloss
  • Whitish stools
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Yellow discoloration of the skin
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting

8. Esophageal cancer: 570,000 new cases

Esophageal cancer, more common in men than women, develops in the cells that line the inside of the esophagus, which communicates the throat with the stomach.

The causes are not clear, although there are risk factors: smoking, obesity, alcoholism, bile and / or gastroesophageal reflux, drinking very hot beverages, a diet low in fruits and vegetables, etc.

The most common symptoms of esophageal cancer are:

  • Difficulty to swallow
  • Weightloss
  • Chest pain
  • Burning in chest and stomach
  • Indigestion
  • Cough

9. Cervical cancer: 569,000 new cases

Cervical cancer is the type of cancer that develops in the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina.

The main cause of developing cervical cancer is having a Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection., although not all women with HPV get cancer. Therefore, there are other risk factors: smoking, weakened immune system, sexually transmitted infections, early sex, etc.

Symptoms appear in advanced stages and are as follows:

  • Vaginal bleeding after having sex
  • Liquid and bloody vaginal discharge
  • Pelvic pain
  • Pain during intercourse

10. Thyroid cancer: 567,000 new cases

This type of cancer occurs in the thyroid, an endocrine gland that produces hormones responsible for regulating heart rate, body temperature, weight, and blood pressure.

The causes that lead to its development are not clear, although it is known that there are risk factors: being a woman, exposure to high levels of radiation and genetic syndromes.

The most common symptoms of thyroid cancer are:

  • Lump in the neck
  • Changes in voice
  • Difficulty to swallow
  • Sore throat
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes

11. Bladder cancer: 549,000 new cases

Bladder cancer develops in the urothelial cells of the bladder, the organ in which urine is stored. It usually affects men more than women and, although it can appear at any time in life, the most common is that it develops in an advanced age.

The most common causes of bladder cancer are: smoking, exposure to high doses of radiation or chemicals, chronic irritation of the bladder, and parasitic infections.

The most frequent symptoms associated with this type of cancer are:

  • Hematuria (presence of blood in the urine)
  • Polyuria (needing to urinate many times a day)
  • Pelvic pain
  • Pain during urination
  • Back pain

12. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma: 509,000 new cases

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is a type of cancer that develops in the lymphatic system. It affects the white blood cells, the cells responsible for the immune system to function properly.

Doctors do not know exactly the causes that lead these cells to become tumors, although it usually happens when the immune system is weakened, which can be given by different risk factors: consumption of immunosuppressive drugs, viral or bacterial infections, exposure to chemicals, old age, etc.

The most common symptoms of this type of cancer are:

  • Weightloss
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • Swollen lymph nodes (neck, armpits, or groin)
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain

13. Pancreatic cancer: 458,000 new cases

This type of cancer affects the cells of the pancreas, an organ responsible for secreting enzymes for digestion and hormones that regulate blood sugar levels.

Although the causes are not very clear, different risk factors that increase the chances of developing it have been determined: smoking, obesity, advanced age over 65 years, pancreatitis, diabetes, family history, etc.

The typical symptoms that pancreatic cancer produces are:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Back pain
  • Diabetes
  • Formation of blood clots
  • Fatigue
  • Jaundice (whitening of the skin)
  • Weightloss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression

14. Leukemia: 437,000 new cases

Leukemia is a type of cancer that develops in the blood. There are many different types of leukemia (some affect children and others adults) although generally, all are characterized by affecting the function of white blood cells.

It is not known exactly what causes leukemia, although there are risk factors: smoking, exposure to chemical compounds, having previously undergone cancer treatments, genetic disorders and family history.

The most common symptoms associated with leukemia are:

  • Fever
  • Shaking chills
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Weightloss
  • Recurrent infections
  • Weakening of the immune system
  • Nasal bleeding
  • Night sweats
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes
  • Bruising
  • Petechiae (red spots on the skin)
  • Bone pain

15. Kidney cancer: 403,000 new cases

Kidney cancer develops in kidney cells. The risk factors associated with this disease are the following: smoking, advanced age, obesity, hypertension, being subjected to dialysis treatment, exposure to chemical compounds, genetic disorders, family history, etc.

The most common symptoms of kidney cancer include:

  • Hematuria (blood in the urine)
  • Weightloss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Fever
  • Back pain

16. Endometrial cancer: 382,000 new cases

Endometrial cancer is cancer that is born in the uterus, the organ in which the development of the fetus occurs during a pregnancy. This cancer is usually found at an early stage as it causes abnormal vaginal bleeding.

Risk factors that increase the likelihood that endometrial cells will become cancerous are: never having been pregnant, starting menstruation at an early age, old age, obesity, treating breast cancer with hormones and changes in the hormonal balance of the woman's body.

The symptoms, which appear early in the development of the disease, are:

  • Bleeding outside the period of menstruation
  • Post-menopausal vaginal bleeding
  • Pelvic pain

17. Mouth cancer: 354,000 new cases

Mouth cancer is any type of cancer that develops in the oral cavity: palate, tongue, lips, gums… The risk factors associated with this type of cancer are: smoking (including chewing tobacco), alcoholism, weakening of the immune system, excessive sun exposure on the lips and infection with the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

The most common symptoms that indicate that the patient has this type of cancer are:

  • Mouth pain
  • No healing of sores
  • Bumps in the oral cavity
  • Loss of tooth support
  • Difficulty to swallow
  • Earache
  • Plaques of pus on the inside of the mouth

18. Cancer of the central nervous system: 296,000 new cases

A cancer in the central nervous system usually occurs in the brain, where a group of cells of this begins to undergo an abnormal growth. There are a wide variety of brain tumors, and although the causes are not very clear, there are some risk factors, especially exposure to ionizing radiation (such as that used in radiation therapy) and the presence of a family history.

The symptoms of a cancer of the central nervous system depend a lot on the characteristics of the tumor, its location and its size; although as a general rule they are the following:

  • Increasing and frequent headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of mobility in extremities
  • Loss of vision and hearing
  • Trouble keeping balance
  • Difficulties speaking
  • Personality changes
  • Seizures

19. Ovarian cancer: 295,000 new cases

This type of cancer develops in the ovariesAlthough the fact that it is usually detected when it has already spread to the abdomen or pelvis, makes the treatment more complicated.

Although the causes are not known with certainty, the risk factors are: advanced age (usually occur after 50 years), family history and genetic disorders, undergo hormonal therapies (generally due to lack of estrogen) and the number of menstruations during the fertile life of the woman.

The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer are:

  • Weightloss
  • Polyuria (need to urinate frequently)
  • Pelvic pain
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Constipation
  • Rapid feeling of fullness

20. Gallbladder cancer: 219,000 new cases

This type of cancer develops in the gallbladder, an organ that stores bile, a liquid product produced by the liver with the function of helping the digestion of food.

Despite not knowing exactly the causes, there are associated risk factors: female sex, advanced age, suffering from other diseases in the gallbladder and having suffered from gallstones in the past.

The most common symptoms associated with gallbladder cancer are the following:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin)
  • Abdominal pain and bloating
  • Fever
  • Weightloss
  • Sickness

The importance of early detection

If you suffer from any of these symptoms on a regular basis or are unsure that you have developed any of these cancers, See your doctor as quickly as possible. Early detection greatly increases the chances of successful treatment.

Bibliographic references

  • World Health Organization (2018) “Latest global cancer data”. Switzerland: International Agency for Research on Cancer.
  • Bray, F., Ferlay, J., Soerjomataram, I. et al. (2018) “Global Cancer Statistics 2018: GLOBOCAN Estimates of Incidence and Mortality Worldwide for 36 Cancers in 185 Countries”. A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.
  • American Cancer Society (2018) "Cancer Facts & Figures". USA: American Cancer Society.