With the passing of senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy a few years ago, the spotlight shone on brain cancer--one of the deadliest cancers. The survival rate for the most common form is very low, especially past the age of 55 where it's just one percent.

Brain and spinal column cancers are extremely rare--according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). They will account for about 1.5 percent of all cancer-related deaths in 2009. The average person has a less than one percent chance of getting it in their lifetime; compare that to a woman's chance of developing breast cancer (about 12 percent), or lung cancer (just over 6 percent).

With that in perspective, data from both the ACS and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) reveals there are other cancers that are far more deadly to the population as a whole.

1. Pancreatic cancer. Although the risk for both men and women of developing cancer is 1 in 76, this is one of the deadliest cancers. One out of five people will live for at least a year after diagnosis, and fewer than four percent will live past five years. According to the ACS, surgery for pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult to perform.

2. Lung cancer. Lung cancer takes top position among the deadliest cancers. It's the leading cause of cancer-related death in men and women. Most likely to be diagnosed in people 45 years or older, there's a one in 16 chance that a woman will get lung cancer; it's one in 13 for men, reports the ACS.

3. Breast cancer. Breast cancer comes in second behind lung cancer as a leading cause of death for women. A woman has a three percent chance of dying from breast cancer, according to the ACS.

4. Ovarian cancer. The overall five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is 45.9 percent: it's 45.8 percent for white women and 37.4 percent for African-American women, reports the NCI. The average age at diagnosis is 63 years old.

5. Colorectal cancer. For men and women separately, this is the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. However, when the sexes are combined, it's the second leading cause of death, states the ACS. A woman has a 5.3 percent likelihood of dying from colorectal cancer.

But, it's not all bad news. The rate of mortality from cancer in the U.S. has been steadily declining since 1993 (especially among young people). "Our efforts against cancer, including prevention, early detection and better treatment, have resulted in profound gains, but these gains are often unappreciated by the public due to the way the data are usually reported," said Eric Kort, M.D., who wrote a report on cancer mortality rates in the journal Cancer Research.

But, this upside of cancer treatment and survival fears poorly against the media's fixation on reports of increasing incidence rates of cancer, and projections from the World Health Organization that cancer will outpace heart disease as the number one killer by 2010.

As Kort asserts, statistics can be misleading. For instance, cancer will outpace heart disease by 2010 because although heart disease and cancer are declining, the mortality rates for heart disease are falling even faster than those for cancer. And while cancer incidence rates continue to climb, lower mortality rates across all age groups proves the effects of early detection, and improved screening and treatment.

4 Factors that Affect Your Cancer Survival Rate

For even the deadliest cancers, you stand a better chance of survival if they're caught early. There's no easy equation for determining your survival rate of cancer, but research has revealed several factors that will affect it:

1. Age of diagnosis. The younger you are at diagnosis, the more likely you are to survive any type of cancer for more than five years.

2. Race and socioeconomic status. Although cancer mortality rates continue to decline, a racial disparity still persists - whites are more likely to survive most forms of cancer. Health experts suggest this may be because race continues to affect socioeconomic status, which impacts access to health care and diet. Another race-related factor may be tumor biology; some studies suggest that tumors may differ in one race compared to others.

3. Marital status. A new study out of Indiana University found that surviving cancer was significantly lower for people who were separated at the time of diagnosis, followed by people who were widowed, divorced or never married.

4. Lifestyle. Looking for an edge in avoiding the deadliest cancers? Exercise and sound sleep may help, according to a report from the American Association for Cancer Research AACR). The AACR states that researchers aren't clear why this is the case, but it may be due to the effects of physical activity on hormones, immune function, and weight maintenance. But, exercise will only reduce your cancer risk, if you're getting enough sleep.


American Association for Cancer Research press release, "Exercise and Rest Reduce Cancer Risk."

Journal: Cancer

Date: Aug 24, 2009 published online

Study: Decreased cancer survival in individuals separated at time of diagnosis: critical period for cancer pathophysiology?

Website: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?orig_db=PubMed&db=pubmed&cmd=Search&term=cancer[Jour]%20AND%202009[pdat]%20AND%20Sprehn[author]

Authors: Sprehn GC, Chambers JE, Saykin AJ, Konski A, Johnstone PA.