10 Types of Cancer That Are on the Rise
From liver cancer to oral cancer, these cancer rates are climbing.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, right after heart disease. More than 1.8 million new cancer cases are expected to occur in the United States in 2020 alone, with an estimated 606,520 deaths, per the American Cancer Society (ACS). And risk factors like excess body weight, smoking, and sun exposure have caused certain types of cancers to rise. Through experts and statistics, we've rounded up 10 rising cancer rates that you should be keeping an eye on.
Rates of new liver cancer cases are rising faster than any other cancer, according to the ACS. "Liver cancer is the only cancer in the United States with incidence rates that continue to rise every year in men and women," Chari Cohen, a public health scientist at the Hepatitis B Foundation, told Cancer Today.
But, it's not just the U.S. According to a 2017 JAMA report, cases of liver cancer increased by 75 percent worldwide between 1990 and 2015—making it one of the leading causes of cancer deaths globally. Those most at risk are people infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The ACS recommends that people born between 1945 and 1965 get tested for HCV, because 75 percent of HCV-infected people fall into this age range.
Oral cancer is also on the rise, affecting men at twice the rate of women. The ACS estimates a 4 percent increase of new cases for men in 2020.
The main driving force behind the increase is due to rising rates of cancers associated with human papillomavirus (HPV) infection—which is transmitted through sexual contact. Luckily, HPV vaccines can help prevent HPV-associated oral cancers, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that only 49 percent of people aged 13 to 17 were up to date with their HPV vaccinations in 2017.
For women, uterine cancer—cancer of the uterus—is something to be particularly wary of these days. According to the CDC, from 1999 to 2016, uterine cancer incidence rates increased by 12 percent, while morality rates increased by 21 percent.
Despite these numbers, Adam Ramin, medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists in Los Angeles, says it's not a cancer that's often talked about. "Uterine cancer is not routinely screened for during a woman's annual physical and because the symptoms associated with it may not outwardly present themselves during its initial stages, uterine cancer types may not be detected until its late stages when the cancer is harder to cure," he says.
Ramin recommends watching for abnormal vaginal bleeding outside your menstrual cycle, as well as maintaining a healthy body weight and diet.
According to the ACS, skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, and its numbers are only continuing to rise. In 2020, it's estimated that new cases of melanoma—one form of skin cancer—will increase by 7 percent in men and 4 percent in women.
The best things you can do for yourself are wear sunscreen and get full-body scans from your dermatologist every year. "Early detection is the most important factor for survival," board-certified dermatologist Mitchell Kline writes on his website. "Professional skin screenings and annual exams can be a question of life or death."
There is expected to be a 3 percent rise in new cases of pancreatic cancer in 2020, according to the ACS—which is quite a staggering amount for such a rare type of cancer. Those who smoke face more than twice the risk of pancreatic cancer compared to nonsmokers, according to Scientific American.
But with rates of smoking dropping over the years, what's causing the sudden rise of pancreatic cancer? Obesity, says oncologist Robert A. Wolff. "Since I've been practicing, I've seen a shift from smoking to obesity as the driver. An average patient of mine has a body mass index between 30 and 35 [obesity is defined as 30 or more], has diabetes or pre-diabetes, is hypertensive, and takes a lipid-lowering agent," Wolff told Scientific American. "It's thought that easily 30 percent of pancreatic cancer is preventable. Cutting back on obesity, better diets, more exercise, no smoking."
Thyroid cancer is also on the rise—disproportionally affecting women at an incidence rate three times higher than that of men. A 2015 Mayo Clinic study reported that, over the past 30 years, the number of thyroid cancer cases diagnosed annually has tripled.
However, this sudden surge might not be due to an overwhelming increase of actual cases, but instead, linked to advancements in detecting the disease. "We are facing an epidemic of diagnosis in thyroid cancer," Juan Brito, MBBS, an assistant professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic and the study's lead author, said in a statement. "Now that we know where all these new cases are coming from, we can design strategies to identify patients with thyroid cancer who can benefit from our treatment."
Lower Stomach Cancer
A 2018 study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reports an increase in lower stomach cancer for younger adults in the U.S. According to their research, while Americans over the age of 50 experienced a decrease in incidence of lower stomach cancer rates by 2.6 percent, those under 50 experienced an increased rate of 1.3 percent. The rise is most evident among white women. One possible cause? Antibiotics.
"We are seeing an increasing risk of this cancer in people born after 1950, and that coincides with the introduction of antibiotics," study leader M. Constanza Camargo of the National Cancer Institute's (NCI) Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, said in a statement. "The increase in noncardia gastric (lower stomach) cancer rates is more pronounced in females than males, and we know that females take more antibiotics than males."
Another cancer disproportionately rising among younger adults at an alarming rate is colon cancer. The ACS estimates that a total of 104,610 colon cancer cases will be diagnosed in 2020. And while Americans over 55 experienced a near 4 percent decrease in incidence rates between 2006 and 2015, rates for younger Americans increased by nearly 2 percent. The recommended starting age for regular screenings was even lowered from 50 to 45 due to rates of colon cancer increasing in younger populations.
"This rise in incidence among younger generations is likely to be driven in part by the changing prevalence of risk factors, such as obesity and poor diet," Marzieh Araghi, PhD, of the International Agency for Research on Cancer said in a statement. "National programs to promote healthy diets and physical activity might be the most efficient approach to ensure population-level changes."
Kidney cancer incidences are still climbing each year. The ACS estimates a total of 73,750 new cases of kidney cancer in 2020, which is most likely due to rising rates of obesity.
"We hope that findings like ours will motivate inactive people to engage in some form of physical activity," lead author Kirsten Moysich, professor of oncology at Roswell Park, said in a statement. "You don't have to run marathons to reduce your cancer risk, but you have to do something—even small adjustments like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking around the block a couple of times on your lunch hour, or parking the car far away from the store when you go to the supermarket."
While breast cancer incidence rates have increased at a lower rate than some other types of cancer throughout the years, they've still consistently increased by 0.3 percent annually. And though this cancer disproportionally affects women—with the ACS estimating a total of 276,480 new cases of breast cancer in women for 2020—the cancer still occurs in men as well, with an estimated 2,620 new cases for men in 2020.
The good news is that due to increased awareness of symptoms and a widespread push for screenings, breast cancer mortality rates have not increased. In fact, according to the ACS, the mortality rate for breast cancer has declined by 1.3 percent per year from 2013 to 2017. Actress Angelina Jolie's public decision to undergo a preventive mastectomy in 2013 led to a 64 percent increase of genetic breast cancer testing, according to a 2016 study in the British Medical Journal.