Cancer Trends Today

Cancer has become a serious personal and public health problem. The mortality rate of cancer has declined over the past several decades due to advances in treatment. At the same time, the number of people diagnosed with cancer is on the rise. While humans have always faced cancer, it's become increasingly prevalent over the past century.

Cancer Trends by Age

It's not surprising that cancer incidence is rising, especially in this country. Cancer is primarily a disease of aging: the older we get, the more likely we are to develop cancer. Experts believe cancer is the result of a long biological process among susceptible people. So, as we age, there's more opportunity for our cells to go awry. Since the number of older adults is rapidly increasing in the U.S., we should expect that more people would be diagnosed with cancer.

The good news is that cancer is relatively rare in infants and children. The bad news is that the cancer mortality rate in infants, usually due to neuroblastoma (cancers in immature nerve cells) or leukemia, is high. Scientists believe this is because faulty genetic processes that fail to prevent the spread of abnormal, fast-growing cells occurs very early in life and progresses very quickly.

Adolescents and young adults (ages 15 to 39) are more likely to develop cancer than children under 15, and tend to develop cancers that are relatively rare in adults, such as leukemia and lymphoma, melanoma, thyroid cancer, germ cell tumors, and sarcomas (cancer in connective or supportive tissues).

Unfortunately, childhood and young adult cancer survivors have increased risks for life-threatening problems in the future, such as secondary cancers and cardiac disease. The survival rate for this age group remains stagnate, while survival rates in children and older adults have increased.

According to the National Cancer Institute, this is the distribution of cancer incidence by age between 2003 and 2008.

Younger than 20                               1.1%

20 - 34                                            2.7%

35 - 44                                            5.6%

45 - 54                                            14.1%

55 - 64                                            22.7%

56 - 74                                            24.7%

75 - 84                                            21.4%

85 and up                                        7.8%

You can take steps to reduce your risk of becoming a statistic, regardless of your age.

  • Don't smoke (or quit)
  • Avoid becoming obese
  • Exercise daily
  • Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Minimize alcohol consumption and sun exposure
  • Avoid known carcinogens

If you've survived cancer as a child or young adult, be alert for secondary cancers and cardiac and bone problems as you age.

Bosely, Sarah. "Cancer diagnoses in 40-59 age group soar 20% in a generation." The Guardian. Web. 18, July 2011.

Gurney, James G., Smith, Malcolm A., Ross, Julie A. "CANCER AMONG INFANTS." SEER Pediatric Monograph 149-156. Web.

Hayes-Lattin, Brandon, MD. "Toward a New Understanding of Cancers in Adolescents and Young Adults." NCI Cancer Bulletin 8 (15) (2011). Web. 26 July 2011.

National Cancer Institute. "For Many Young Cancer Survivors, Late Effects Pose Lasting Problems." NCI Cancer Bulletin 8 (15) (2011). Web. 26 July 2011.

National Cancer Institute. "Childhood Cancers." Web. 10 January 2008

National Cancer Institute. "Cancer Trends Progress Report 2009/2010." Web.

Centers for Disease Control. "United States Cancer Statistics (USCS) 2010." Web.

National Cancer Institute. "SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2008." Web. 15 April 2011.

Vladimir N. Anisimov, MD. "Biology of Aging and Cancer." Cancer Control 14(1) (2007):23-31. Web. 2 April 2007.