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by Peterson E

Epidemiology of Cancer

Epidemiology refers to the branch of medicine that deals with the study of the causes, distribution, and control of disease in populations. In this section we will discuss the most commonly diagnosed and most fatal types of cancer in the United States.

Epidemiology of Cancer: 2015 Statistics

Estimated New Cases (excludes basal and squamous cell skin cancers and in situ carcinoma except urinary bladder)
Male Female
Prostate 220,800 (26%) Breast 231,840 (29%)
Lung & bronchus 115,610 (14%) Lung & bronchus 105,590 (13%)
Colon & rectum 69,090 (8%) Colon & rectum 63,610 (8%)
Urinary bladder 56,320 (7%) Uterine corpus 54,870 (7%)
Kidney & renal pelvis 38,270 (5%) Thyroid 47,230 (6%)
Melanoma of the skin 42,670 (5%) Non-Hodgkin lymphoma 32,000 (4%)
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma 39,850 (5%) Melanoma of the skin 31,200 (4%)
Pancreas 24,840 (3%) Pancreas 24,120 (3%)
Leukemia 30,900 (4%) Kidney & renal pelvis 23,290 (3%)
Oral cavity & pharynx 32,670 (4%) Ovary 21,290 (3%)
All sites 848,200 (100%) All sites 810,170 (100%)
Estimated Deaths
Male Female
Lung & bronchus 86,380 (28%) Lung & bronchus 71,660 (26%)
Prostate 27,540 (9%) Breast 40,290 (15%)
Colon & rectum 26,100 (8%) Colon & rectum 23,600 (9%)
Pancreas 20,710 (7%) Pancreas 19,850 (7%)
Leukemia 14,210 (5%) Ovary 14,180 (5%)
Esophagus 12,600 (4%) Leukemia 10,240 (4%)
Urinary bladder 11,510 (4%) Uterine corpus 10,170 (4%)
Liver & intrahepatic bile duct 17,030 (5%) Non-Hodgkin lymphoma 8,310 (3%)
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma 11,480 (4%) Liver & intrahepatic bile duct 7,520 (3%)
Kidney & renal pelvis 9,070 (3%) Brain & other nervous system 6,380 (2%)
All sites 312,150 (100%) All sites 277,280 (100%)

Cancer Risk

By far, the number one risk factor for cancer (indeed for virtually all chronic diseases) is age. Nearly 78% of all cancers are diagnosed in people 55 years of age or older. Cancer researchers describe the risk of cancer in a number of ways:
Lifetime risk refers to the probability that any one person will develop cancer in their lifetime. For example, in the United States, the lifetime risk of developing cancer for men is less than one in two. In women, it is approximately one in three.
Relative risk measures the degree of the relationship between a particular risk factor and a particular cancer. Relative risk is expressed as a ratio of the number of cancer cases in a group of individuals with a risk factor over the number of cases in those without it. Most relative risks are small. For example, women who have a mother, sister, or daughter with breast cancer have about a 2-fold increased risk of developing breast cancer compared to women with no such family history of breast cancer. Other risk factors make more of an impact. One in particular, smoking, increases the risk of many cancers, but none so much as lung cancer. Men and women who smoke carry a 25-fold increased risk of lung cancer development.
Some risk factors are associated with multiple cancers (tobacco and diet), while other risk factors are specific to one type of cancer (ultraviolet radiation and skin cancer, human papillomavirus and cervical cancer). To learn more about the individual risk factors for a particular type of cancer, click on the cancer of your choice at the bottom of this page.
How do normal cells grow and develop?What is the difference between a noncancerous and a cancerous tumor?How do cancerous cells grow and develop?What is a cancer gene? How do they occur?What causes cancer?What are the different types of cancer?


Cancer facts & figures 2015. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Accessed May 7, 2015.
Cancer statistics. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Accessed May 7, 2015.

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