The Most Common Cancers and How to Spot Them

Most people know of someone in their family who has been diagnosed with cancer. The earlier doctors find cancer, the sooner treatment can start. So it’s helpful to know the most common types of cancer and their warning signs.

There are more than 100 types of cancer, and some are more common than others, depending on things like your age, gender, and racial or ethnic group. (For example, prostate cancer only affects men, and breast cancer is far more likely in women.)

Keep in mind that many cancers don’t have symptoms in their early stages. And if you do have symptoms, they could also show up with other conditions, so you’ll need tests to find out the cause.

1. Non-melanoma Skin Cancer

Non-melanoma skin cancer, which includes basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, is the most common form of cancer. It affects more than a million Americans each year.Exactly how many new cases there are each year isn’t clear because doctors can often treat it in their office and don’t have to report cases to cancer registries.

Signs of basal cell carcinoma include:

  • Sores that don’t heal, or heal and then reappear.
  • Raised, scaly red patches.
  • Small, shiny, smooth lumps that are pink, red, or white.
  • Pale, flat areas of skin that look like scars.
  • Sores or growths that bleed, itch, or have small blood vessels on their surface.
  • Pink growths with raised edges or indents.

Basal cell carcinoma is most likely to grow on your head, face, neck, and torso.

Signs of squamous cell carcinoma include:

  • Scaly, red patches with uneven borders.
  • Wart-like growths.
  • Sores that bleed easily, won’t heal, or that form a crust that doesn’t go away.
  • Growths that are itchy, irritated, or painful.

Squamous cell carcinoma usually forms on areas of your body that have been repeatedly exposed to sunlight, like your face.

2. Breast Cancer

Estimated new U.S. cases in 2018: 266,120

Signs include:

  • A new lump or mass in your breast, armpit, or around your collarbone. Most lumps are painless, but some may be painful or tender. (Many lumps aren’t breast cancer, though. The only way to tell is have your doctor check it.)
  • Swelling in your breast
  • Irritation, dimpling (which may cause your skin to look like an orange peel), thickening, redness, or scaliness of the skin on your breast
  • Pain in your breast or nipple
  • Nipple discharge that isn’t breast milk
  • Nipple retraction (a nipple that’s “dented” or turned inward)

These signs don’t always mean you have breast cancer. That’s why it’s important to see your doctor or a breast specialist if you notice any changes in your breasts.

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3. Lung Cancer

Estimated new U.S. cases in 2018: 234,030

Signs of lung cancer include:

Lung cancer doesn’t usually cause symptoms until it’s advanced (also referred to as late-stage cancer). That’s because your lungs have few nerve endings, so tumors can grow there without causing pain. If you have any of the signs above, see your doctor to get tested for lung cancer and other possible causes, such as asthma.

4. Prostate Cancer

Estimated new U.S. cases in 2018: 164,690

Signs include:

  • Problems urinating, like trouble starting or holding back urination, leaking, interrupted flow of urine, or a sudden uncontrollable urge to urinate
  • Pain (which may feel like a burning sensation) during urination
  • Needing to pee often, especially at night
  • Trouble getting or keeping an erection
  • Changes in ejaculation, such as pain during ejaculation or a decrease in the amount of fluid ejaculated
  • Blood in the urine or ejaculation fluid
  • Pain in your lower back, thighs, hips, or pelvic area
  • Pressure or pain in your rectum

Prostate cancer doesn’t usually cause early warning signs. Experts recommend that if you’re a man over age 55 and don’t have any symptoms, you should talk to your doctors about whether you should be tested for the disease. If you do have symptoms, see your doctor right away. These symptoms can also be due to other problems like prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate).

5. Colon and Rectal Cancers

Also called colorectal cancers, experts estimate that 140,250 new cases will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2018.

Signs include:

  • Losing weight without trying
  • Weakness and exhaustion
  • Changes in your bowel habits (like constipation, diarrhea, or narrow stool) that lasts for more than a few days
  • Pain in your stomach or gut that may come or go but lasts for more than a few days
  • Pressure in your rectum or abdomen. This might feel like you constantly need to have a bowel movement.
  • Blood in your stool (which may look dark red or black)
  • Bleeding in your rectum. This may appear as bright red blood on toilet paper.

Colorectal cancers don’t always cause symptoms until they’re advanced. But signs of colorectal cancers can also be signs of other problems, like hemorrhoids or irritable bowel syndrome. See your doctor if you have any of these problems.

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6. Melanoma

Estimated new U.S. cases in 2018: 91,270

Signs include:

  • A mole or mark on the skin that is asymmetrical, meaning it has uneven edges. The edges may look scalloped or notched.
  • A mole or freckle that has a variety of colors (rather than being all one shade of brown or black). Melanoma may be brown, black, white, red, pink, or even blue.
  • A mole or mark that is red, white, or blue
  • A mole that is larger than the tip of a pencil eraser
  • A mole or mark that’s growing quickly or has changed color or shape
  • A mole or mark that is bleeding, itching, or crusting

Because melanoma causes visible changes on your skin, experts recommend examining your skin from head to toe once a month to spot any potential signs of skin cancer, and having your doctor check your skin once a year, too.

7. Bladder Cancer

Estimated new U.S. cases in 2018: 81,190

Signs include:

  • Blood in the urine. This is usually the first sign of bladder cancer. Blood may make your urine look pink, red, or orange.
  • Changes in urination, like having trouble urinating, having a weak urine stream, pain during urination, or not being able to urinate.

See your doctor if you have any of these problems. Keep in mind that they could have other causes, such as a urinary tract infection, an overactive bladder, or an enlarged prostate.

8. Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

Estimated new U.S. cases in 2018: 74,680

Signs include:

  • Enlarged lymph nodes, which can feel like lumps under the skin
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Feeling weak or tired all the time
  • Chills, fever, or night sweats
  • A swollen abdomen
  • Feeling full after only eating a little
  • Shortness of breath or a cough that doesn’t go away
  • Pain or pressure in your chest
  • A severe infection or regular infections
  • Bruising or bleeding regularly

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is one of the more common forms of childhood cancer, but it affects adults, too. It can be in different areas of the body, which means the symptoms of the disease can vary. For example, lymphoma in your abdomen can cause pain and swelling in your gut, while skin lymphoma can lead to itchy lumps on the skin. Some of the signs of lymphoma are also common signs of infections that aren’t linked to cancer.

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9. Kidney Cancer

Estimated new U.S. cases in 2018: 65,340

Signs include:

  • Blood in your urine
  • Pain in one side of your lower back that isn’t caused by an injury
  • A lump on one side of your lower back
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • A low appetite
  • Losing weight without trying
  • A fever that doesn’t go away
  • Anemia (low red blood cell counts, which your doctor would determine with a blood test)

10. Leukemia

Estimated new U.S. cases in 2018: 60,300

Signs include:

  • Fever, chills, or night sweats
  • Feeling exhausted or weak
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • An enlarged liver (which may feel like a mass under your ribs on your right side)
  • An enlarged spleen (which may feel like a mass under your ribs on your left side)
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Bleeding or bruising easily
  • Tiny red spots on your skin called petechiae
  • Bone pain

Leukemia is a cancer in the body’s blood-forming tissues. These tissues include bone marrow and the lymphatic system, including the lymph nodes. Because leukemia can affect different parts of the body, signs of the disease can vary from person to person.

11. Pancreatic Cancer

Estimated new U.S. cases in 2018: 55,440

Signs include:

Pancreatic cancer doesn’t usually cause signs until the disease is advanced.

12. Thyroid Cancer

Estimated new U.S.cases in 2018: 53,990

Signs include:

  • A lump or swelling in the front of your neck
  • Pain in the front of your neck that may radiate up to your ears
  • Trouble swallowing or breathing
  • Voice changes, like hoarseness, that don’t go away
  • A constant cough

13. Liver Cancer

Estimated new U.S. cases in 2018: 42,220

Signs include:

  • Losing weight without trying
  • Not having an appetite or feeling very full after eating a small amount of food
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • An enlarged liver. This may feel like a mass under your ribs on your right side.
  • An enlarged spleen. This may feel like a mass under your ribs on your left side.
  • Pain in your gut or near your right shoulder blade
  • A swollen abdomen
  • Skin itching that doesn’t have another cause
  • Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (known as jaundice)
  • Abnormal bruising or bleeding
  • Fever
  • Enlarged veins on your belly
  • Lightheadedness or fainting
  • Weakness or confusion
  • Constipation

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14. Endometrial Cancer

Endometrial cancer is a type of uterine cancer that affects the endometrium, which is the lining of the uterus. Experts predict that 63,230 new cases of uterine cancers, including endometrial cancer, will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2018.

Signs of endometrial cancer include:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding, like bleeding between periods or after menopause
  • Vaginal discharge that isn’t bloody but seems abnormal (such as an unpleasant odor)
  • Pain or pressure in your pelvic area
  • Losing weight without trying
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on August 29, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

American Cancer Society: “Breast Cancer Signs and Symptoms," “Bladder Cancer: Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging," “Colorectal Cancer Signs and Symptoms," “Signs and Symptoms of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in Children," “Signs and Symptoms of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma," “Kidney Cancer Signs and Symptoms," “Signs and Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer," “Signs and Symptoms of Liver Cancer," “Cancer Facts & Figures 2017," “Who Gets Cancer?" “Signs and Symptoms of Endometrial Cancer.”

Canadian Cancer Society: “Signs and Symptoms of Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer.” 

American Lung Association: “What Are the Symptoms of Lung Cancer?” 

Prostate Cancer Foundation: “Prostate Cancer Symptoms and Signs.” 

Skin Cancer Foundation: “Skin Cancer Facts & Statistics," “Melanoma Warning Signs and Images.” 

Mayo Clinic: “Leukemia: Symptoms and Causes," “Pancreatic Cancer.” 

SEER Cancer Statistics Review 1975-2015.

Journal of the Dermatology Nurses Association: “Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer: Part 1.”

National Cancer Institute: “Cancer Statistics," “Cancer Types.”

CDC: “Should I Get Screened for Prostate Cancer?” 

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