10 cancer facts

Since the signing of the National Cancer Act 35 year ago, progress in the war on cancer has occurred through the work of geneticists, molecular biologists, epidemiologists, chemists and physicians at the National Cancer Institute’s comprehensive cancer centers, clinical cancer centers, basic science cancer centers and consortium cancer centers. These prestigious centers include the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, which offers these 10 fast facts to keep you up-to-date on the cancer front.


1. We are winning the war against cancer.

Early detection through screening, more effective treatments, reduction of exposure to risk factors and equal care for people diagnosed with cancer contribute to reducing the burden of cancer in the United States. Americans' risk of dying from cancer continues to drop, maintaining a trend that began in the early 1990s. However, the rate of new cancers remains stable. Death rates decreased for 11 of the 15 most common cancers in men and for 10 of the 15 most common cancers in women.


2. Cancer is not one disease but dozens of diseases.

Cancer is a group of more than 100 different diseases characterized by the uncontrolled, abnormal growth of cells that form a tumor. Some cancers, such as blood cancers, do not form tumors. Benign (non-cancerous) tumors may grow, but they do not spread to other parts of the body and are usually not life threatening. Malignant (cancerous) tumors grow and invade other tissues in the body. Cells from malignant tumors can also break away and travel to other parts of the body, where they can continue to grow, a process called metastasis.


3. Early detection is key.

Some cancers can be found early by physical examinations by a health professional (such as examination of the skin), specific examinations (such as a colonoscopy to look inside the rectum and the colon) and X-ray or laboratory tests (such as mammography and the Pap test). A combination of these approaches is the most effective strategy for early detection, and early detection increases the likelihood of effective treatment.


4. Cancer is primarily a disease of older people.

People of all ages, including children, can develop cancer, but most cancers occur in people over the age of 65. Certain risk factors that increase the chance of developing cancer are old age, tobacco use, overexposure to sun, ionizing radiation, certain chemicals, some viruses and bacteria, certain hormones, family history of some types of cancer, alcohol abuse, being physically inactive and obesity. By avoiding known risk factors, cancer risk may be reduced.


5. Some cancers can be prevented.

Cigarettes, cigars, pipes and smokeless tobacco cause cancer. Staying in the shade, wearing a hat and shirt when in the sun and using sunscreen can lower skin cancer risk. Certain foods are linked to some types of cancer. Reducing your intake of high fat foods and increasing dietary fiber may reduce cancer risk. Limiting alcohol consumption, maintaining body weight or not gaining weight as an adult and including exercise as part of daily activities can also lower cancer risk.


6. Skin cancer is the most common cancer.

The most common type of cancer is non-melanoma skin cancer—basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma—with more than one million new cases diagnosed in the U.S. in 2006. Reducing exposure to ultraviolet radiation decreases the incidence of non-melanoma skin cancer. UV radiation comes from the sun, tanning booths and sunlamps.


7. Genes affect cancer risk.

Cancers develop because of a mutation in the physical structure of a gene that disrupts normal functions. A genetic mutation passed from parent to child is known as inherited susceptibility. Having an inherited susceptibility increases the chance of developing cancer if other factors that promote the development of cancer occur. Most cancers result from genetic changes that occur after birth. These genetic changes are called somatic alterations.

8. There are four primary cancer treatments.

The primary cancer therapies are surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and biologic therapy. Cancers respond differently to various types of treatment, and people with the same cancer may respond differently to the same treatment. Early-stage cancers may need different therapies than later-stage cancers. Overall health, lifestyle and personal preferences also influence treatment choice.


9. Gender and ethnicity affect cancer risk.

To understand better the factors affecting cancer risk and how cancer impacts society, researchers compile information about cancer diagnoses and cancer-related deaths and track each case by gender and ethnicity. For example, among Californians, black men are five times more likely to die of cancer than are South Asian men. Yet rates of certain cancers, such as liver and stomach cancer, are higher among Asians than blacks.


10. More than 10 million Americans are living with cancer today.

The statistics on survival are encouraging for many cancers. There are approximately 10.1 million Americans alive with a history of cancer—some are considered cured, others are in remission or are receiving treatment. The overall survival rate for all types of cancer is 65 percent. The USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center is proud to contribute to that success.


Resources: American Cancer Society, American Society of Clinical Oncology, Los Angeles Cancer Surveillance Program, National Cancer Institute and the NCI Entertainment Education Program, National Cancer Institute Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results database