40 Most Common Types of Cancer in People Over 40
Make sure to ask your doctor about these forms of cancer as you age.
Over time, your body's cells become damaged due to everything from the sun's harmful rays to bad habits like smoking. And if that damage builds up enough, your risk of cancer might increase in your later years as a result. In fact, a staggering 80 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the United States every year are in those 55 and older. Want to know what you should look out for as you reach your 40s, 50s, and beyond? From widespread varieties like breast cancer to rarer forms like adrenal cancer, these are some of the most common types of the disease as you age.
As you get older, your risk of getting skin cancer increases since exposure to harmful UV rays accumulates over the years, according to Cancer Treatment Centers for America. So how likely are you to get skin cancer in your later years? By 70 years old, one in every five Americans will develop skin cancer, and more than two people die because of it every single hour. However, getting regular skin examinations from your doctor or dermatologist can help you catch and treat it early.
Julie K. Karen, MD, a dermatologist in New York City, told the Skin Cancer Foundation that whether it's melanoma, basal cell carcinomas, or squamous cell carcinoma, never wait to get it removed. Otherwise, you risk it spreading to other parts of your body, and having to undergo a potentially disfiguring removal process.
Your risk for Hodgkin's lymphoma—a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system—increases at two different ages. According to the American Cancer Society, it commonly develops in early adulthood (particularly in a person's late 20s) and in late adulthood (typically after 55 years old). While Hodgkin's lymphoma is one of the most treatable forms of lymphoma, survival rates decrease as you age.
“In almost any cancer diagnosis, older age is an adverse prognostic factor, meaning worse outcomes. But in Hodgkin’s lymphoma, that difference … is much more prominent than other cancers,” Andrew Evens, DO, MSc, FACP, a lymphoma expert at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, told Cancer Therapy Advisor. “In Hodgkin’s lymphoma, just based on that sole factor, age above or below 60 or 65, the survival difference can be 40 or 50 percentage points worse versus younger patients.”
As your age increases, so too does your risk of developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, one of the most common types of blood cancer. According to Cancer Treatment Centers of America, 77 percent of all cases occur in those who are 55 and older, with the average age of diagnosis being 67. “It’s one of the few cancer types that’s on the rise, exponentially,” says Heather Paulson, ND, FABNO, a naturopathic oncologist at The Paulson Center in Tempe, Arizona. “It’s thought that this dramatic increase in the past few decades may be linked to toxins in our environment.”
Head and neck cancer
Head and neck cancer—which includes cancers of the mouth, throat, nose, sinuses, and other areas in the region—is more often diagnosed in those over the age of 50, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, age isn't the only factor that increases your risk of this cancer: Anyone who uses tobacco products or drinks an excessive amount of alcohol is increasing their risk every time they light up a cigarette or have a beer. “Ninety percent of the time, head and neck cancer patients are smokers. Seventy-five percent of the time, they abuse alcohol. It’s the most preventable cancer,” says Regina Brown, MD, an oncologist at UCHealth in Lone Tree, Colorado.
Eye cancer probably isn't anything you've ever thought about, but in 2020, there will be an estimated 3,400 new cases in the U.S. And this type of cancer is certainly one you need to pay mind to as you age: The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) says those over 50 years old are most affected, with 55 being the average age of diagnosis.
Unfortunately, the biggest risk factors for breast cancer are being a woman and getting older. “Breast cancer in women is the most common cancer diagnosed, and the incidence increases with age,” Brown says.
According to the CDC, most breast cancer cases occur in women over the age of 50. Other factors that can increase your risk? Genetics, reproductive history, and having dense breasts.
Metastatic breast cancer
Unlike typical breast cancer, metastatic breast cancer spreads outside the breast and on to other parts of the body, including the brain, bones, and lungs. According to Breastcancer.org, 30 percent of those who are diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer will develop metastatic breast cancer at some point during their lifetime. And most often, women are diagnosed around age 61.
The good news is that “metastatic breast cancer is not the death sentence we once thought it to be,” Paulson says. “With advancements in treatments and through adding integrative support, women with metastatic breast cancer are living healthy and active lives.”
One in nine men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point during their life. “It’s the most common cancer diagnosed in men, and the second leading cause of cancer death,” Brown says. “The major risk factors are increased age, race—it’s higher in African Americans—and diet, as there’s an increased risk with eating animal fats.”
While ovarian cancer is rarely seen in women under 40, everything changes once menopause comes around. “It’s the fifth leading cause of cancer death in women and over half of patients diagnosed are over the age of 65,” Brown says. Other factors that increase your risk in addition to getting older are being overweight or obese, having a child after age 35, using fertility treatments, and having a family history.
Your risk of bladder cancer increases if you're a smoker. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, smokers are three times more likely to develop bladder cancer than non-smokers.
With that being said, though, your age also plays into your risk. “Bladder cancer is the sixth most common cancer and occurs more often in men than women,” Brown says. “These tumors tend to arise in patients over 55 years of age.” Specifically, according to the American Cancer Society, approximately 90 percent of patients with bladder cancer are over 55 years old.
Leukemia—a cancer that affects the blood-forming tissues in the body—might be thought of as something only children get, but it affects adults, too. In fact, the National Cancer Institute says that although it's the most common cancer in children under 15 years old, it's most often seen in adults over 55 years old. The good news is most leukemias are highly responsive to chemotherapy and immunotherapy, Paulson says.
There are so many different risk factors for gallbladder cancer, including having gallstones, being a woman, and being overweight or obese, according to the American Cancer Society. “Gallbladder cancer is often missed until the later stages of life because it has very few physical symptoms or lab changes until the bile duct becomes blocked,” Paulson says. As a result, it’s also often seen as an older person's cancer, with the average age of diagnosis being 72.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death by a long-shot. According to the American Cancer Society, there will be 228,820 new cases of lung cancer in 2020 and 135,720 deaths as a result of the disease. While your risk of developing lung cancer is higher if you're a smoker, it’s not the only cause. “Recently, there’s been an increase in lung cancer in non-smokers. This type of lung cancer is due to a genetic mutation known as ALK, or anaplastic lymphoma kinase,” Paulson says. Age plays a role too: You're at the highest risk when you're between the ages of 55 and 80.
Stomach cancer—also known as gastric cancer—is one of the most common cancers after 40. “It’s been linked to a diet of processed and smoked meats,” Paulson says, including bacon, ham, sausauge, and hot dogs. Out of the new 27,600 cases estimated in the U.S. in 2020, 60 percent will be older than 65.
Kidney cancer affects more than 40,000 men and 23,000 women every year, with smoking being the most prominent risk factor, says the CDC. However, increasing age is also a risk factor; in 2016, the number of cases was positively correlated with age up until 80 years old.
However, treatment is possible for this type of cancer. “It’s often treated by inhibiting angiogenesis, or blood vessel formation feeding cancer cells,” Paulson says. “Treatments can include immunotherapies and natural therapies that block this blood vessel formation.”
Small intestine cancer
Small intestine cancer is pretty rare, but there are a few things doctors do know. It affects slightly more men than women, it's most common in African Americans, and smoking, alcohol, and eating diets high in red meat and smoked foods could increase your risk. Age is also a factor: It occurs most commonly in older individuals with the average age of diagnosis being in one's 60s and 70s.
There are many factors that can put you at a higher risk of liver cancer. And while some of these factors you can control—like heavy alcohol and tobacco use—your age is one that you can't. According to the CDC, most people are diagnosed with liver cancer somewhere between the ages of 40 and 90. “Liver cancer is now about the third leading cause of cancer-related mortality worldwide,” Federico Aucejo, MD, a liver transplant surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, said on the hospital’s Butts & Guts podcast. If you're carrying any risk factors, Aucejo says to see a physician early on. That way if you’re diagnosed, it's not at the advanced stages.
Any time you use tobacco—whether it's cigarettes, cigars, pipes, or the chewing variety—you're putting yourself at risk of esophageal cancer. However, according to the American Cancer Society, age is just as much a factor as tobacco use when it comes to this type of cancer; per the society, less than 15 percent of all cases of this cancer are seen in those under 55. “Esophageal and gastric cancers are some of the most stubborn and aggressive cancers that we treat in the United States today. Therapies must be quite aggressive to treat these cancers,” Peter Enzinger, MD, a medical oncologist in Boston, Massachusetts, wrote for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Adrenal cancer—which affects the adrenal glands that are located above each kidney—only affects around 200 people every year. Even though it's a lot rarer than some of the other types on this list, it's still important to be aware of. The American Cancer Society says 15 percent of cases are caused by genetic defects; being overweight, smoking, and living a sedentary lifestyle could be culprits, too. Age can also be a factor, as most cases occur in those around 46 years old.
More than 57,600 people are estimated to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the United States in 2020 alone. And while smoking is the biggest risk factor (it doubles your risk), age also plays a role. The American Cancer Society says almost all individuals with pancreatic cancer are over 45 years old, and the average age of a patient at their time of diagnosis is 70.
“The most common single symptom is jaundice,” Matthew Walsh, MD, a general surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, told the hospital’s Butts & Guts podcast. “You’ll first notice it your urine; it will turn dark. If you have those symptoms, see your doctor promptly.”
Anaplastic thyroid cancer
Women are at a much higher risk of thyroid cancer than men, with three of every four cases being in females. Sex isn’t the only risk factor, though. According to the ASCO, anaplastic thyroid cancer—one of four types of thyroid cancer—is usually diagnosed after the age of 60.
As you get older, your risk of developing colon cancer increases. Most cases occur in those over 50 years old with the average age of diagnosis being 68 for men and 72 for women. According to the American Cancer Society, 104,610 new cases were predicted in the U.S. in 2020 alone. One way to fight it? Changing how you eat. “Studies have shown that a pescatarian diet can be a great strategy for reducing risk of colon cancer, as well as the risk of recurrence in people who have already had colon cancer,” Paulson says.
Like colon cancer, your risk of rectal cancer—which affects the lining of the rectum—only increases as you age. It's estimated that there will be 43,340 new cases in the U.S. in 2020, and the typical age of diagnosis in both men and women is 63 years old. “If there’s a lesion or abnormal tissue structure in this area, it can present most of the time as bleeding,” Emre Gorgun, MD, a colorectal surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, said on the Butts & Guts podcast. “Rectal bleeding is one of the main things we need to watch out for.”
Anal cancer has been on the rise. In fact, there will be an estimated 8,590 new cases diagnosed in 2020, according to the American Cancer Society. Women have a slightly higher risk than men, and age plays a role as well. As the American Cancer Society notes, it typically occurs in older adults with most cases diagnosed in the early 60s.
There are a handful of different risk factors that cause women to develop uterine cancer, including being overweight or obese, getting their period before age 12, and going through menopause after 50. Another common factor? Age. According to the Society of Gynecologic Oncology, those between 50 and 70 years old are at an increased risk, and over half of the women diagnosed are over 55.
There are many risk factors women should be aware of when it comes to endometrial cancer, a specific type of uterine cancer. “Endometrial cancer is a fairly common disease, and it’s unfortunately becoming more common due to the growing rates of obesity,” Ross Berkowitz, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist and professor at Harvard Medical School, said in an interview with the school’s website. Along with obesity, having a family history of endometrial or colorectal cancer and having type 2 diabetes can all increase your risk, as does your age. According to the American Cancer Society, the average age of diagnosis is 60 years old.
Vaginal cancer—which occurs in the cells that line the surface of the vagina, according to the Mayo Clinic—doesn't have a clear cause. With that being said, there are a couple risk factors to be aware of. “The typical person to develop this would be an elderly woman, probably related to the viral infection human papillomavirus (HPV),” Sandy Burnett, MD, a gynecologic oncologist at UAMS Health in Arkansas, said in a video interview with the hospital. The most common age of diagnosis is over 60 years old.
Fallopian tube cancer
Fallopian tube cancer—which affects the cells lining the inside of the fallopian tubes—can occur in women of all ages, but mostly impacts those between 50 and 60 years old, according to the University of Texas. “It behaves like ovarian cancer and often shows up with symptoms such as gas and bloating,” Paulson says. “Other risk factors that may make a difference? Being caucasian, having few or no children, having a family history of fallopian tube cancer, and having certain gene mutations."
In 2020, it's predicted that more than 13,800 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S., and more than 4,290 women will likely die at the hands of the disease. That's why it's so important to know your risk factors and get screened regularly—especially as you age. The American Cancer Society says cervical cancer mostly affects women between 35 and 44 years old, while around 20 percent of all cases occur in women 65 and older.
The lifetime risk of brain cancer is less than one percent. And while there isn't a surefire cause, there are some risk factors to be aware of, including being a woman, having a compromised immune system, and your age. According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, the number of brain cancer cases increases with age, with most occurring after age 65.
Pituitary tumors affect the pituitary gland, which is located below the brain and right above your nasal cavity. According to the American Cancer Association, most of the 10,000 cases diagnosed every year are found in older adults, and—luckily—most are also benign. “The pituitary gland measures about the size of a kidney bean and sits right at the base of the brain. It controls all the hormones in the body,” Sandeep Kunwar, MD, surgical director for the California Center for Pituitary Disorders, said in a video interview with the University of California, San Francisco. As lesions grow within the pituitary gland, it can cause numerous different problems in your body, from hormonal to vision.
Chondrosarcoma and chordoma
Out of all the different types of bone cancers, a couple of them are more common in adults. Chondrosarcoma (which affects the cartilage of the femur, pelvis, knee, and spine) is most commonly diagnosed at age 51, and chordoma (which occurs in the bones at the base of the skull and spine) most often affects those in their 50s and 60s.
Paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer
Those who breathe in certain substances at work—such as wood dust, leather dust, flour, and nickel—are at an increased risk of nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.
Tobacco use and being male are also risk factors to be aware of, as well as your age: Most cases occur in those between 45 and 85 years old, according to the ASCO.
Lip and oral cancer
Lip and oral cavity cancer—which is a type of head and neck cancer—most often comes about in men. “It can be caused by smoking, chewing tobacco, and sun exposure,” Paulson says. Heavy alcohol use can also play a role. According to Compass Oncology, most of those diagnosed are over 60 years old.
Nasopharyngeal cancer—a lesser-known type of head and neck cancer—occurs when cancer cells form in your throat up behind your nose. According to the Mayo Clinic, the biggest risk factors include being a man, being of East Asian descent or northern African descent, and being between 30 and 50 years old.
Salivary gland cancer
Salivary gland cancer occurs when cancer cells form in your salivary gland tissues and it’s often identified by having trouble swallowing or feeling a lump, says the National Cancer Institute. It accounts for one percent of cancer cases in the United States, and there are only a few known risk factors. Aside from being exposed to certain substances and undergoing treatment with radiation therapy to your head and neck, it also often affects those of older age—mostly around 64 years old.
There are a few different risk factors for developing multiple myeloma, a type of cancer that forms in the plasma cells. Being exposed to radiation or chemicals can impact your risk, and it occurs twice as often in African Americans as it does caucasians. Age plays a role as well, with the majority of people being diagnosed after age 60, according to the ASCO.
Penile cancer affects the tissues of the penis, and while it's also less common than other types of cancer, your risk increases if you've had HPV, if you smoke, and if you are older than 50. In fact, according to the ASCO, 80 percent of the men diagnosed with penile cancer are 55 or older. “This tumor can show up anywhere along the head of the penis, the foreskin, or the shaft of the penis,” Anne Schuckman, MD, a urologic oncologist in Los Angeles, California, said in an interview with USC’s Keck Medicine.
Testicular cancer—which typically begins as a lump or swelling in a man's testicles—affects one in every 250 men at some point during their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society. While the average age of diagnosis is 33, 8 percent of cases occur in those over 55.
Soft tissue sarcomas
There are more than 50 different types of soft tissue sarcomas. “They typically occur in areas such as muscle or fat, though they can occur in most of the soft tissues of the body,” Adam Levin, MD, orthopaedic oncologist at Johns Hopkins, explained in a video interview for the hospital. While sarcomas only make up one percent of all cancers, they tend to occur slightly more in males and are mostly diagnosed in those over 60, according to the Cancer Network.