Deadly Cancers: The 10 Most Fatal Types of Cancer for 2017

Though we all do what we can to keep ourselves healthy, many of us are still concerned about the disease there’s still no cure for: cancer. Whether you’ve spent the majority of your life smoking or you’ve done your best to stay fit, cancer can strike, usually without much warning.

According to the National Cancer Institute, there were 14 million new cases of cancer worldwide in 2012, with that annual number estimated to rise to 22 million within the next two decades. Curious as to which ones experts predict will be the most fatal this year? Here are the top 10 you should watch out for, according to the American Cancer Society (just wait till you see what made No. 1).

10. Brain and nervous system cancer

a puzzle of a brain

Brain and nervous system cancer should be on your radar. |

Brain cancer may not be on your radar the way other types are, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the signs and symptoms. This type of cancer occurs when there’s an abnormal growth of cells in the brain, says eMedicineHealth. While this cancer can develop in the brain itself, it can also start in other organs, then travel there via the bloodstream.

Treating brain cancer can be a complex process involving neurosurgeons, oncologists, and neurologists. Unfortunately, the symptoms are so numerous that most people do not know they have a serious disease. Headaches, muscle weakness, and clumsiness can all occur, but because they are so general, few people attribute them to cancer.

In 2017 alone, an estimated 23,800 new cases will be diagnosed and 16,700 cases overall will prove fatal.

9. Bladder cancer

man sitting on the bed clutching his stomach

Unfamiliar with bladder cancer? Know your risks. |

Though bladder cancer is often diagnosed early and can be treated quickly, it’s still sitting at ninth on the list. According to the National Cancer Institute, the most common type of bladder cancer, transitional cell carcinoma, occurs in the cells that line the inside of the bladder. Blood in the urine is the most common symptom, though this worrying sign isn’t always obvious.

If you’re a smoker, know the ACS reports you’re three times more likely to develop bladder cancer than those who steer clear of cigarettes. People who are prone to bladder infections are also at a higher risk than the general public. And those with a family history should be acutely aware of any symptoms they notice.

Of the estimated 79,000 new cases for 2017, 16,870 may prove fatal.

8. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

a doctor holding a tablet

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can be quite deadly. |

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is generally a catch-all phrase for a variety of blood cancers that develop in the lymph nodes or lymphatic tissue. The Leukemia and Lymphoma society explains this type of cancer begins when a type of white cell in the tissue undergoes an abnormal change, then starts to grow and produce more abnormal cells that form tumors. There are more than 30 subtypes of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which are categorized according to how fast they’re growing.

Researchers have found those who live and work in farming communities tend to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma more so than others, which leads some to believe pesticides and herbicides may play a role. The ACS estimates there will be 72,240 new cases this year and 20,140 fatalities.

7. Leukemia

a hospital bed

Leukemia is a very serious blood cancer. |

Aside from non-Hodgkin lymphoma, there’s another blood cancer high on the list — leukemia. We’ve all heard of leukemia, but many of us don’t actually know much about it. Mayo Clinic explains leukemia is cancer of the blood-forming tissue in our body, which includes bone marrow and the lymphatic system. Put simply, leukemia causes the bone marrow to produce white blood cells that don’t function as they should.

The symptoms of leukemia often go undetected, which can make this disease even deadlier. Cold and flu-like symptoms are common, but certain types of leukemia can live inside the body for years without showing any symptoms. A whopping 62,130 new cases of leukemia are expected to be diagnosed in 2017, with 24,500 cases expected to be fatal. 

6. Prostate cancer

doctor talking to a male patient in an exam room

Men need to pay attention to their prostate cancer risks. |

This cancer may not be No. 1 on the list, but it’s important to note prostate cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer death for men in the U.S., the Urology Care Foundation reports. While some men may develop benign growths in their prostate, malignant growths are cancerous and can invade other areas of the body. These growths can sometimes be removed, but they also have a chance of growing back.

Prostate cancer typically has no symptoms in its early stages, making it all the more deadly. Symptoms that do occur usually mimic those associated with an enlarged prostate, so some men justify not visiting a doctor because they don’t think it’s serious. Around 161,360 new cases will be diagnosed this year, and 26,730 deaths are estimated.

5. Liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancer

woman in pain at her desk

Cut back on the drinks if liver cancer runs in your family. |

If ever there were a reason to cut down on your alcohol consumption, it’s seeing liver cancer appear as No. 5 on this list. The liver does one of the most important jobs in the body — it processes what you eat and drink while also removing toxins from the blood. The American Liver Foundation explains liver cancer occurs when unhealthy cells in the organ grow and spread. Hepatitis B and C infections are linked closely to liver cancer because they can also lead to cirrhosis, which is when healthy liver tissue is replaced with scar tissue.

Intrahepatic bile duct cancer occurs when there are unhealthy cells within the ducts inside the liver, which remove waste material, says Johns Hopkins Medicine. The ACS predicts 40,710 new cases of liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancer will be diagnosed this year, and 28,920 cases will prove fatal.

4. Breast cancer

Woman holding a pink breast cancer awareness ribbon

Breast cancer can happen to both men and women. |

Perhaps one of the most well-known types, breast cancer results from cell mutation that leads to a malignant tumor, says the National Breast Cancer Foundation. While this particular type is the second leading cause of cancer death for women, men can also be at risk.

Family history plays a big role here, as it does with all cancers. If a family member has had ovarian or breast cancer, your risk increases. If the relative diagnosed developed breast cancer before the age of 50, your chances are even greater. Other risk factors include menstruating before age 12, going through menopause after the age of 55, never giving birth, and giving birth to your first child later in life. None of these mean you’re doomed, but their absence doesn’t mean you’re in the clear.

The ACS estimates there will be more new cases of breast cancer this year than of any other cancer — 255,180. Of those cases, 41,070 are projected to be fatal. 

3. Pancreatic cancer

Illustration of male pancreas anatomy

Pancreatic cancer is very deadly. |

You probably don’t realize just how much your pancreas does for your body. This small organ lies behind your lower stomach area and helps keep your digestion, insulin production, and metabolism running smoothly. According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, most cancers in the pancreas start in the glands responsible for producing the digestive enzymes that help break down proteins, fats, and starches.

When pancreatic cancer reaches the later stages, symptoms are definitely noticeable; however, they can be very hard to detect at first. Jaundice (yellowing of the skin), digestive problems, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and nausea are all common once the disease advances. If you’re a diabetic or have liver damage, this also puts you at an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer. And of course, smoking cigarettes and unhealthy lifestyle choices are other risk factors. This year, the number of new cases and fatalities are close: There will likely be 53,670 new cases and 43,090 deaths. 

2. Colorectal cancer

female doctor writing notes while talking to a patient

Colon cancer is preventable, so get an annual colonoscopy to detect abnormalities. |

Colorectal cancer is one of the most fatal cancers, but it’s also one of the most preventable. It occurs when abnormal growths, called polyps, form in the colon or the rectum. The growths don’t always become cancerous, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s a possibility. Some polyps can stay in the colon for years without causing cancer, which is why regular colon screenings after the age of 50 are recommended. If a doctor detects a polyp, they can remove it before it becomes a problem.

Age is a huge risk factor for colorectal cancer — more than 90% of cases occur among those over the age of 50. If you’ve had inflammatory bowl disease, Crohn’s disease, or have a family history of colon cancer, then you’re also at an increased risk. Eating plenty of fiber through fruits and veggies is vital in healthy digestion and may help minimize your odds of developing the disease. In 2017, 135,430 new cases of colorectal cancer are likely to occur and 50,260 people are projected to die from it.

1. Lung and bronchus cancer

3D illustration of Lungs

Lung cancer is still No. 1. |

Once again, lung and bronchial cancer are projected to be the deadliest types this year. According to the American Lung Association, lung cancer occurs when cells within the lungs mutate and grow uncontrollably, eventually hurting other organs and preventing them from functioning well. Unfortunately, many people do not experience symptoms of lung cancer until it spreads to other areas of the body.

Of course, cigarette smoking is the major risk factor for developing lung cancer — it’s responsible for more than 90% of diagnoses. But this doesn’t mean you’re safe just because you’ve never smoked. Breathing in toxic substances of any kind raises your risk. Out of all 222,500 people who are expected to receive a diagnosis, 155,870 are projected to die.

Sarah Kaye Santos also contributed to this story