The 5 Most Common Cancer Types
Cancer is one of the most prevalent diseases of our time. In fact, there are over 200 different kinds of cancer that can affect the over 60 different organs in our bodies.
It affects men more commonly than women. In fact, males are 14 percent more likely to get cancer than their female counterparts.
Cancer can also be inherited. Those with a family history of cancer are much more likely to develop the disease than someone whose family history does not have the disease.
What is Cancer?
In a nutshell, cancer is essentially the body’s healing process that hasn’t been turned off. Instead of creating the number of new cells needed and then turning off the reproduction of new cells, the body continues producing new cells which clump together and form a tumor.
Cancer is actually caused by a genetic mutation (which explains why it’s hereditary). The oncogene promotes cell growth, and tumor suppression genes terminate cell growth. When cancer occurs, something has caused one of these genes to mutate causing the inability of the body to turn off cell growth.
Cancer is classified by type of cell from which the tumor is derived. There are five different classes of tumor cells:
- Carcinoma – these tumors are derived from epithelial cells
- Sarcoma – originates from mesenchymal cells located outside the bone marrow
- Lymphoma and leukemia – are derived from hematopoietic or blood-forming cells
- Germ cell tumor – derived from pluripotent cells which are stem cells that can differentiate into one of the three different types of germ cells: endoderm, mesoderm or ectoderm
- Blastoma – derived from immature embryonic cells, or “precursor” cells (blastoma usually develops in children)
Some cancers are more common than others. The following is a list of the top ten most common types of cancer in order of most to least common.
1. Prostate Cancer
Remember our statistic about men being more likely to get cancer than women? Here’s why.
Like its name suggests, this type of cancer affects the male prostate gland. There are approximately 238,590 estimated new cases of prostate cancer every year.
Most forms of prostate cancer are slow growing, although there are a few that are aggressive. In the early stages of the disease there are no warning signs, but as the disease progresses symptoms can include:
- Frequent urination, especially at night
- Difficulty starting or stopping a urine stream
- Inability to urinate while standing
- Blood in the urine or semen
- Pain or a burning sensation during urination or ejaculation
- Urine leakage while laughing, sneezing or coughing
- Weakness of or an interruption in the urine stream
The diagnosis is made through a biopsy and/or ultrasound, and treatment usually involves radiation or surgery.
2. Lung Cancer
There are 228,190 estimated new cases of lung cancer every year. As most of us know, this disease commonly affects smokers and those who are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke.
However, it may also affect nonsmokers. The lung is one of the most common locations for cancer metastasis.
Symptoms of lung cancer include:
- Cough that gets progressively worse with time
- Chronic chest pain
- Blood in sputum
- Shortness of breath, hoarseness or wheezing
- Swelling of the neck and face
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
Lung cancer is typically diagnosed through an x-ray and treatment consists of chemotherapy, radiation and/or surgery. However, treatment is dependent on the type of lung cancer.
3. Breast Cancer
It is estimated that there are between 232,340 and 232,240 new cases of breast cancer yearly. It typically affects women, although it can also affect the breast tissue of males.
The most common symptom of breast cancer is a lump in the breast tissue; however, there can be other symptoms as well.
- A marbled look under the skin of the breast
- Swelling in the armpit
- Pain and/or tenderness in the breast (although lumps are typically painless)
- Unusual discharge from the nipple (not associated with pregnancy) that is bloody, clear or of another color
- Any change in the size, texture, contour or temperature of the breast
- Noticeable indentation or flattening of the breast
- An area that is distinctly different from any other part of the breast
Diagnosis involves mammography and biopsy, and treatments usually involve mastectomy (removal of the breast) either partial or total, lumpectomy (removal of the lump), radiation treatment, chemotherapy, hormone treatments or biological therapy which involves using the body’s immune system to fight the cancer cells.
4. Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer actually combines two types of cancer, colon and rectal, since they are located in essentially the same area.
Colon cancer begins in the colon or large intestine, and rectal cancer begins in the rectum, which is the end of the large intestine. Combining these two cancers, it is estimated that 142,820 new cases will be diagnosed yearly.
Like prostate cancer, the early stages of colorectal cancer usually produce no symptoms. However, in the later stages, symptoms can include:
- Changes in bowel movements including persistent diarrhea or constipation
- A feeling of not being able to empty the colon or an urgency of “having to go”
- Rectal bleeding and/or cramping
- Long, thin stools commonly called “pencil stools”
- Abdominal bloating or other discomfort
- Unexplained fatigue
- Loss of appetite and/or weight loss
- Pelvic pain
- Dark patches of blood in or on stool
Diagnosis usually involves a colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, double contrast barium enema, and/or CT colonography. All of these tests should be repeated every 5 years after the age of 50 (unless there is a family history). If something suspicious should be found, a biopsy will be needed. If cancer is confirmed other tests will be performed to see if the cancer has metastasized.
Treatment typically involves surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy. Treatment is dependent on the location and aggressiveness of the cancer.
Melanoma is an aggressive type of skin cancer. Although less common than other skin cancers, approximately 76,690 new cases of the disease are diagnosed yearly, and it tends to be more common in Caucasians than other ethnicities.
Melanoma typically develops from existing moles that can be located anywhere melanocyte cells are prevalent such as the skin, eye and colon. An easy way to remember the signs and symptoms of melanoma are the ABCDEFG rule:
- Asymmetry – half of the mole or skin growth doesn’t match the other half
- Borders – irregularity of the borders (or edges) of a mole or skin growth such as ragged, notched or blurry edges
- Color – the color of the mole is not uniform, instead there are shades of tan, brown and black, as well as red, blue and white which give the mole a mottled appearance. Changes in color distribution such as the spread of the coloring surrounding the edges into the interior of the mole can also be a sign of melanoma.
- Diameter – the mole or skin growth is larger than a pencil eraser or 6.00mm. Of course the growth of an existing mole should be examined.
- Evolution – there are changes in the size, shape and color of the mole as well as the addition of new symptoms such as itching or bleeding.
Nodular melanoma, and extremely aggressive form of this already aggressive cancer has the EFG rule:
- Elevation – the mole or growth is elevated above the skin
- Firmness – the growth is firm to the touch
- Growing – the mole is actively growing
If melanoma is suspected, a biopsy is taken. If cancer is confirmed, treatment typically involves removal of the growth, depending on the depth of the cancer. If the cancer has reached the deeper layers of the skin, radiation and chemotherapy may be indicated.
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© 2013 Melissa Flagg COA OSC