Most Prevalent Cancers: A Global Overview

Most Prevalent Cancers
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Most Prevalent Cancers: A Global Overview


Cancer is a global public health issue, affecting people of all ages and backgrounds. As such, it’s important to be aware of what the most common cancers are and the risk factors associated with them.

In this article, we’ll explore the most prevalent cancers in the world, as well as the risk factors that may increase your risk of developing cancer. We’ll also look at some of the ways cancer can be prevented and detected early.

Through understanding the most common cancers and their risk factors, we can arm ourselves with the knowledge to reduce our risk of developing the disease and access early detection services if needed.

Most Prevalent Cancers: A Global Overview

Most Prevalent Cancers: A Global Overview

Most Common Cancers Globally

When it comes to understanding cancer, it’s important to recognize that it affects people differently all around the world. The cancer landscape can vary drastically between countries, regions, and even populations. However, there are certain types of cancer that are the most common across the globe, and understanding them is the first step in treating and preventing cancer.

In 2018, the four most common kinds of cancer worldwide were lung cancer, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and prostate cancer. Lung cancer affected the most people, accounting for 11.6 percent of all new cases and 18.4 percent of all cancer deaths. Breast cancer was the second most prevalent, with 11.4 percent of new cases and six percent of deaths. Colorectal cancer was the third most common cancer, making up nine percent of all new cases and 8.2 percent of cancer deaths. Last was prostate cancer, which was responsible for five percent of all new cancer cases and 3.6 percent of all cancer deaths.

Women were more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, accounting for 64.4 percent of all new cases. Lung cancer was the most common for men, making up 28.2 percent of all cancer cases. In terms of age, colorectal cancer affected those aged 50-69 most frequently, with 72.5 percent of new cases diagnosed in this age group. Because of its high mortality rate, lung cancer was responsible for the largest portion of deaths overall, with 37.7 percent of all cancer deaths in 2018.

In terms of geography, the highest incidence of cancer overall was in North America, with a total of 1,970.3 cases per 100,000 people. Europe was the second most affected region, with 1,650.6 new cases per 100,000 people. The regions with the lowest incidence of cancer were Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean, with 752 and 867.8 cases per 100,000 people respectively.

Overall, understanding the most common types of cancer and the ways in which they affect different populations can help us to better understand cancer and develop better treatments and prevention methods.

Lung Cancer

is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers worldwide, with an estimated 2 million new cases diagnosed in 2018.1 Approximately one third of all cancer-related deaths can be attributed to this life-threatening disease, making it the leading cause of cancer-related mortality.1

It is estimated that in low- and middle-income countries, lung cancer is the most common cancer, accounting for 24-30% of all new cancer cases.1 Women are more likely than men to be affected by this form of cancer, and incidence rates rapidly increase with age.1

The main risk factors for developing lung cancer include smoking, exposure to asbestos and certain other industrial pollutants, as well as exposure to second-hand smoke.1 Fortunately, these risk factors can largely be avoided, making lifestyle choices vitally important in preventing an estimated 80-90% of all lung cancer cases.2,3

1. World Health Organization. (2020). Lung cancer fact sheet. Retrieved from
2. American Lung Association. (n.d.). Lung cancer facts. Retrieved from
3. National Cancer Institute. (2020). About lung cancer. Retrieved from

Colorectal Cancer

, also known as bowel cancer or colon cancer, is a cancer that begins in the large intestine (colon) or the rectum (the end of the colon). It is one of the most common types of cancer worldwide, with an estimated 1.8 million new cases in 2020. In Europe alone, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths, following lung cancer. Although the overall incidence rate varies among different countries, colorectal cancer is most prevalent in North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Central and Western Europe. The risk of colorectal cancer increases with age, and symptoms may include rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, fatigue, and changes in bowel habits. In the early stages, the disease may be asymptomatic, so regular screening is important. Treatment options typically involve surgery, radiation, and/or chemotherapy. Early detection and treatment of colorectal cancer can drastically improve the chances of a patient’s survival.

Breast Cancer

is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women worldwide, accounting for nearly one-third of all cases. It is most commonly found in women aged 45–65, and is the leading cause of death among women of this age. In high-income countries, breast cancer accounts for 15-20% of all cancer cases and 10-15% of all cancer deaths. The risk factors associated with breast cancer include age, gender, genetics, obesity, hormone use, and other lifestyle factors. Early detection and treatment of breast cancer is essential for increasing the chance of successful recovery. Screening programs including regular mammograms, clinical breast exams, and self examinations can greatly improve the rate of diagnosis and the overall prognosis.

Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide. Globally, it is one of the top five cancers in terms of incidence. Prostate cancer is found primarily in men aged 50 and over, with the risk of developing the disease increasing with age. Diagnosis is typically done through a physical examination and/or a biopsy. Treatment varies according to the stage and progression of the disease, but commonly includes radiation therapy, surgery, and/or hormone therapy. In order to reduce your risk of developing prostate cancer, it is recommended to eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and get regular health screenings.

Skin Cancer

is a form of cancer that affects the cells of the skin. It is the most common form of cancer globally, accounting for almost half of all cancer cases worldwide. It can be caused by excessive sun exposure, a weakened immune system, and genetic factors.

The two most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. These are usually caused by direct exposure to ultraviolet light, and they are highly treatable when caught early. However, if left untreated, both can lead to serious complications.

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It can occur anywhere on the body and the risk of metastasis is much higher than with other forms. It is important to speak with a doctor and get a skin check if you notice any strange spots or changes on your skin. Early detection and treatment are key to reducing the risk of melanoma.

Stomach Cancer

, also known as gastric cancer, is one of the more common types of cancer worldwide, with an estimated 940,000 new cases diagnosed each year. It is particularly common in countries in East Asia and South America, particularly among individuals aged 50 or older. Stomach cancer often has few noticeable symptoms, making it difficult to detect until it has already progressed to a more advanced stage. As such, regular health screenings are recommended for individuals in high-risk areas. Symptoms may include weight loss, stomach pain, tiredness, a loss of appetite, and nausea. Treatment usually involves a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. With early diagnosis and treatment, stomach cancer can be effectively managed, however, in late stages, it can prove fatal.

Cancer Risk Factors

Cancer is a complex disease and no single factor is responsible for its development. However, some risk factors have been identified that may increase the likelihood of developing certain types of cancer. These risk factors may include environmental exposure, lifestyle choices, and inherited genetic mutations.

Environmental Exposure

Environmental exposure can increase the risk of certain types of cancer including skin and lung cancers, particularly if the exposure is prolonged or repeated over a long period of time. Common environmental risk factors include exposure to airborne toxins, smoke, or radiation from the sun.

Lifestyle Choices

The way we live our lives can affect our risk for certain types of cancer. Poor dietary habits, lack of exercise, and smoking are all associated with an increased risk for developing certain types of cancer.

Inherited Genetic Mutations

In some cases, a person may have an inherited genetic mutation that increases their risk for cancer. Even if a mutation exists, it may not necessarily lead to cancer. It is important to speak with a medical professional to determine the best course of action if you are concerned about your risk for cancer.

Overall, it is important to be aware of the risk factors for cancer and to speak with a medical professional about any concerns. While some risk factors cannot be avoided, such as environmental exposure, it is important to take precautionary steps to limit your exposure to these risks. Additionally, lifestyle choices and regular medical checkups can help to reduce the risk of developing cancer.

Tobacco Use

Tobacco use is one of the most preventable causes of cancers globally. Tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and e-cigarettes, contain over 70 carcinogenic compounds that can cause lung, larynx, esophageal, and kidney cancers. While the risk of developing cancer due to tobacco use is higher in developing countries, the World Health Organization estimates that tobacco use causes over 8 million deaths a year, making it one of the leading preventable causes of death worldwide. In order to reduce the global cigarette consumption, public health campaigns have been implemented in many countries, including taxation and banning smoking in public places.

Alcohol Use

: Consuming alcohol is a worldwide phenomenon and it has been linked to several kinds of cancers. Alcohol has been linked to a higher risk of cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum, and female breast. It is also important to note that alcohol increases the risk of cancer regardless of whether it is consumed in the form of beer, wine, or distilled spirits. The best way to lower the risk of cancer is to abstain from alcohol use or to limit consumption to no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.


is a growing health concern globally and, unfortunately, it can increase the risk of certain types of cancer. Obesity, especially severe obesity, can increase the risk of developing cancers of the breast, colon, esophagus, and kidney. This is due to the body’s increased production of hormones and proteins when someone is overweight. Additionally, people who are obese tend to have higher levels of inflammation and chronic stress, both of which have been linked to an increased risk of cancer. Reducing and maintaining a healthy body weight is an important part of overall health and can help reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer.

Diet and Nutrition

are important factors in achieving good health and a healthy lifestyle. Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins such as lean meats and fish, and whole grains can help reduce your risk of developing certain cancers. Eating a healthy, balanced diet with five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily, limiting your intake of processed and red meats, avoiding sugary drinks and limiting alcohol consumption are just a few of the ways to reduce your risk of developing cancer. It is also important to maintain a healthy weight, as obesity is associated with an increased risk of certain cancers. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle through proper nutrition and diet is an essential part of cancer prevention.

Physical Activity

has been linked to a lower risk of developing certain kinds of cancer, as well as reducing the risk of cancer recurrence and mortality. Being physically active is an important factor in maintaining overall health and wellbeing. Adequate physical activity may include moderate-intensity activity such as brisk walking, or more vigorous activities such as running, swimming, or cycling. The World Health Organization recommends that adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity (or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity) each week, or an equivalent combination of both. It is also recommended that adults do muscle strengthening activities such as yoga, weight-lifting or sit-ups at least two times a week. Meeting these guidelines can reduce the risk of developing several cancers, including colorectal, post-menopausal breast, and endometrial.

Occupational Exposures

Unfortunately, many of the global cancers that are most prevalent are caused in part by the type of occupation people hold. Certain jobs involve long-term exposure to carcinogenic substances, including those that are found in certain industrial and agricultural environments. Common occupations at risk for occupational exposures include miners, painters, and workers who are exposed to asbestos, diesel exhaust, pesticides and herbicides, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

It is important for people to recognize the risk of exposure in their work environment and to take the necessary safety precautions to protect their health. Employers should also provide adequate safety protocols to minimize their employees’ risk of exposure. Taking steps to reduce occupational exposures can help lower the risk of cancers in many parts of the world.

Cancer Prevention and Early Detection

One of the most important aspects of decreasing cancer mortality rates is the ability to identify risk factors and methods of prevention. Early detection is also key in the fight against cancer, as it allows for early intervention and treatment, allowing many individuals to return home and live long, healthy lives.

One of the most effective ways to prevent cancer is to avoid risk factors associated with the disease. These can include inheritance (genetic defects), lifestyle choices like smoking, and environmental factors like exposure to carcinogens, radiation, and certain viruses. A healthy lifestyle, including physical activity, healthy nutrition, and avoiding tobacco, is associated with lower rates of cancer. Additionally, certain vaccines, like the HPV vaccine, are also important for cancer prevention.

Another important step in preventing cancer is detecting it early. Early detection can be done through regular medical screenings and examinations. Screenings allow for early detection, which in turn enables early intervention, often resulting in the best possible outcomes. For example, regular screenings can detect the early signs of breast, colorectal, and cervical cancers. Early detection is also important for monitoring cancer survivors and helping them to maintain good health.

Overall, cancer prevention and early detection are important steps in decreasing cancer mortality rates. By avoiding risk factors, getting vaccinated, and making use of regular screenings, individuals can reduce their risk of developing cancer and seek early intervention if they do. Despite the fact that cancer remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide, it is clear that there are steps that can be taken to reduce its prevalence.


In conclusion, while cancer remains a significant global health concern, there is hope. By understanding the most common types of cancer, their risk factors, and how to prevent and detect cancer early, we can make great strides in reducing cancer mortality rates and improving the quality of life for those affected. Additionally, with increased research and technological innovations, treatments for cancers are ever-evolving and making cancer a more manageable and survivable experience. Aware of the many factors that contribute to the development of cancer, we can all take steps to reduce our risk and increase our chances of living a long, healthy life.

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