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The five most common types of cancer include breast, lung, colorectal, prostate and non-melanoma skin cancer.

The Most Common Types of Cancer

Cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for some 10 million deaths in 2020 according to the World Health Organization. Many cancers are attributed to similar common factors, such as tobacco use, high body mass index, alcohol or drug consumption and poor diets. Other cancers seem to appear out of nowhere. Because of this, not all cancers are equally common. We’re here to tell you what you need to know about the top five most common types of cancer around the world.

1. Breast Cancer

Though the exact causes of breast cancer symptoms are unknown, it is the most common cancer around the world. There were 2.26 million cases of breast cancer in the world in 2020 alone. There are several different types of breast cancer, but some of the common signs and symptoms include:

  • Lumps in the breast or underarm or any other change in size or shape.
  • Thickening or swelling in the breast.
  • Irritation, redness, flakiness, or dimpling of the breast skin.
  • A pulling sensation in the nipple.
  • Discharge other than milk, including blood.
  • Pain in the breast.

2. Lung Cancer

There were 2.21 million cases of lung cancer in the world in 2020. Most cases of lung cancer can be directly attributed to tobacco consumption, but lung cancer can also develop in people who have never smoked. For those who smoke, quitting can significantly reduce the risk of developing lung cancer, even after years of tobacco use. Signs and symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • Coughing that gets worse or doesn’t go away.
  • Chest pain.
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath.
  • Coughing up blood.
  • Feeling fatigued all the time.
  • Weight loss with no known cause.

3. Colorectal Cancer

The precise cause of colorectal cancer is unknown, but it is a common type of cancer, accounting for 1.93 million cases in 2020. Many people do not experience symptoms until the cancer has progressed significantly, and the risk of colorectal cancer is known to increase with age, so regular colonoscopies are recommended for people over the age of 50 to help screen for colon cancer. While many people experience no symptoms early on, some signs could include:

  • A change in bowel habits.
  • Blood in or on your stool (bowel movement).
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty all the way.
  • Abdominal pain, aches, or cramps that don’t go away.
  • Weight loss and you don’t know why.
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4. Prostate Cancer

With 1.41 million cases in 2020, prostate cancer is very common. Although it is considered an easier cancer to treat in the U.S., it is the second leading cause of cancer death in men around the world. Prostate cancer is usually detected through routine physicals, and if caught early it is highly treatable. Some signs and symptoms of prostate cancer could include:

  • Problems urinating, including a slow or weak urinary stream or the need to urinate more often, especially at night.
  • Blood in the urine or semen.
  • Trouble getting an erection (erectile dysfunction or ED).
  • Pain in the hips, back (spine), chest (ribs), or other areas from cancer that has spread to bones.
  • Weakness or numbness in the legs or feet, or even loss of bladder or bowel control.

5. Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer

Melanoma is an unusual type of skin cancer that is different and less common than its non-melanoma counterpart, so these cancers are usually considered separately. There were 1.2 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer in the world in 2020. For non-melanoma skin cancer, the most obvious sign is a change in skin. However, not all changes in skin are necessarily indicative of skin cancer. It could be a mole or another type of non-cancerous growth. However, you should talk about any suspicious marks on your skin with a doctor, and they can help deem if a biopsy is necessary.

Protecting Yourself From Cancer

While there is no way to ensure you will never get cancer, there are ways to avoid the worst risk factors, which could reduce your chances of getting some of the types of cancer on this list.

Here are some steps you or your loved ones can take to help prevent cancer:

  • Don’t consume tobacco.
  • Maintain a healthy diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables.
  • Aim to get 150 minutes per week of aerobic exercise.
  • Avoid excessive sun exposure.

Above all else, one of the most important ways to prevent cancer is by receiving routine medical care. Many cases of the most common cancers can be mitigated if they are caught early and being seen regularly by a doctor familiar with the warning signs and risk factors for cancer gives you the best chance of an early diagnosis if you do develop cancer.