The Top 10 Deadliest Cancers — And Why There's No Cure

The dread and fear that can come with a cancer diagnosis have their roots in its killer nature: It's the No. 2 cause of death in Americans, second only to heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even when diagnosed early and attacked with the latest treatments, it still has the power to kill.

To help raise money to find cures and treatments for cancer patients, the "Stand Up to Cancer" telethon will air on ABC, NBC and CBS and other networks and cable stations starting at 8 p.m. ET Friday. The telethon will feature a host of celebrity guests, including George Clooney, Denzel Washington, Renee Zellweger and Will Smith.

"'Stand Up To Cancer' represents collaborative efforts" to provide funding for cancer research, Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, told MyHealthNewsDaily.

"We would not be where we are if basic and clinical science wasn't funded," Lichtenfeld said. "Basic science teaches us about mechanisms, about how drugs may be effective, and we take that info and put it into a clinic to find out whether or not those new ideas work in cancer treatment."

While there are many successful treatments today that didn't exist just a couple decades ago, a wholesale " cure for cancer " remains elusive for many reasons. There are more than 100 types of cancer, characterized by abnormal cell growth. There are many different causes, ranging from radiation to chemicals to viruses; an individual has varying degrees of control over exposure to cancer-causing agents.

Cancer cells, and how they grow, remain unpredictable and in some cases mysterious. Even after seemingly effective treatments, crafty cancer cells are able to hide out in some patients and resurface.

About $200 billion has been spent on cancer research since the early 1970s, and the five-year survival rate for all people diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. has risen from about 50 percent in the 1970s to 65 percent today.

Here's a look at the 10 cancers that killed the most people in the United States between 2003 and 2007, the most recent data available, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

1. Lung and bronchial cancer: 792,495 lives
Lung and bronchial cancer is the top killer cancer in the United States. Smoking and use of tobacco products are the major causes of it, and it strikes most often between the ages of 55 and 65, according to the NCI. There are two major types: non-small cell lung cancer, which is the most common, and small cell lung cancer, which spreads more quickly. More than 157,000 people are expected to die of lung and bronchial cancer in 2010.

2. Colon and rectal cancer: 268,783 lives
Colon cancer grows in the tissues of the colon, whereas rectal cancer grows in the last few inches of the large intestine near the anus, according to the National Cancer Institute. Most cases begin as clumps of small, benign cells called polyps that over time become cancerous. Screening is recommended to find the polyps before they become cancerous, according to the Mayo Clinic. Colorectal cancer is expected to kill more than 51,000 people in 2010.

3. Breast cancer: 206,983 lives
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women in the United States, after skin cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic. It can also occur in men — there were nearly 2,000 male cases between 2003 and 2008. The cancer usually forms in the ducts that carry milk to the nipple or the glands that produce the milk in women. Nearly 40,000 people are expected to die from breast cancer in 2010, according to the NCI.

4. Pancreatic cancer: 162,878 lives
Pancreatic cancer begins in the tissues of the pancreas, which aids digestion and metabolism regulation. Detection and early intervention are difficult because it often progressives stealthily and rapidly, according to the Mayo Clinic. Pancreatic cancer is expected to claim nearly 37,000 lives in 2010, according to the NCI.

5. Prostate cancer: 144,926 lives
This cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in men, after lung and bronchial cancer, according to the NCI. Prostate cancer usually starts to grow slowly in the prostate gland, which produces the seminal fluid to transport sperm. Some types remain confined to the gland, and are easier to treat, but others are more aggressive and spread quickly, according to the Mayo Clinic. Prostate cancer is expected to kill about 32,000 men in 2010, according to the NCI.

6. Leukemia: 108,740 lives
There are many types of leukemia, but all affect the blood-forming tissues of the body, such as the bone marrow and the lymphatic system, and result in an overproduction of abnormal white blood cells, according to the NCI. Leukemia types are classified by how fast they progress and which cells they affect; a type called acute myelogenous leukemia killed the most people — 41,714 — between 2003 and 2007. Nearly 22,000 people are expected to die from leukemia in 2010.

7. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma: 104,407 lives
This cancer affects the lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, and is characterized by larger lymph nodes, fever and weight loss. There are several types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and they are categorized by whether the cancer is fast- or slow-growing and which type of lymphocytes are affected, according to the NCI. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is deadlier than Hodgkin lymphoma, and is expected to kill more than 20,000 people in 2010.

8. Liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancer: 79,773 lives
Liver cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer around the world, but is uncommon in the United States, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, its rates in America are rising. Most liver cancer that occurs in the U.S. begins elsewhere and then spreads to the liver. A closely related cancer is intrahepatic bile duct cancer, which occurs in the duct that carries bile from the liver to the small intestine. Nearly 19,000 Americans are expected to die from liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancer in 2010, according to the NCI.

9. Ovarian cancer: 73,638 lives
Ovarian cancer was the No. 4 cause of cancer death in women between 2003 and 2007, according to the NCI. The median age of women diagnosed with it is 63. The cancer is easier to treat but harder to detect in its early stages, but recent research has brought light to early symptoms that may aid in diagnosis, according to the Mayo Clinic. Those symptoms include abdominal discomfort, urgency to urinate and pelvic pain. Nearly 14,000 women are expected to die of ovarian cancer in 2010, according to the NCI.

10. Esophageal cancer: 66,659 lives
This cancer starts in the cells that line the esophagus (the tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach) and usually occurs in the lower part of the esophagus, according to the Mayo Clinic. More men than women died from esophageal cancer between 2003 and 2007, according to the NCI. It is expected to kill 14,500 people in 2010.

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  • by Audra Location: SoCal on Sep 12, 2010 at 06:16 AM
    Oh and Anon, what you forget is, when a drug hits the market it's no longer under the control of the countless people that had the intention during it's development of actually helping people. You've never observed those patents and formulations, and the various fights over who has control? Wake up.
  • by Audra Location: SoCal on Sep 12, 2010 at 06:14 AM
    Oh, what was I thinking? Someone in the medical field would never do anything unethical. If you believe that, I have a pretty red bridge in northern CA that's for sale. Ever wonder why L-tryptophan was yanked from the market after ONE BAD BATCH that came from ANOTHER COUNTRY, and continued to be listed as unsafe.. and yet, 5-HTP returned to the market as a PRESCRIPTION supplement when it was finally rereleased? They finally had to let go of it and put it back on the shelf in that form as an OTC but it took years. No, that wouldn't have been about money... of course not. Simply extracting the active component of 5-HTP from L-tryptophan (an amino acid found in... FOOD) made it magically no longer cause a mysterious blood disease. Hocus pocus. Hey, I'm convinced. Not.
  • by Anonymous on Sep 11, 2010 at 11:01 PM
    dear US-First - thank you thank you thank you for talking sense! the fact that ppl think that cures are being withheld so that people continue to make money off cancer treatment is insane! the very idea is BEYOND unethical! truthfully, everyone has been affected by cancer in someway or another, meaning the researchers and the doctors as well. NO ONE is that heartless as to watch a family member suffer and then go plan ways to keep the cures from others AND their sick family members - NO ONE!!!
  • by Audra Location: SoCal on Sep 11, 2010 at 10:58 PM
    US-First: You must think you're pretty smart there adding figures up. How's this for you... 34 yrs with no new meds for Lupus. Now there is one. Snoop Dogg's daughter gets it in a study, woohoo - glad for them BUT... how about the many people who will now face a $20K a yr fee that they can't afford and medicare won't cover? Benlysta, in case you're not up to date. Look that up if you're curious. A lot of lives could be saved but... they'll continue to suffer and die of organ failure. Fun, huh? I won't even go into the obscene cost of Taxol now. There was a time when medical professionals cared about their patients and made sacrifices, other than fretting about their student loans. It's expensive yes, but if you're interested in saving lives and quality of life, you don't profiteer to the degree of what we're seeing now. Drs live pretty darn comfortably from what I've seen. Some of us would just like to get through the day barely comfortable & pain free.
  • by US-First Location: Greenville on Sep 11, 2010 at 05:31 PM
    You people are nutz if you think money is made trying to treat these diseases. A lot of smart people dedicate their lives to treating and trying to find a cure for diseases. I am sick and tired of people who don't think their hard work is worth the money. If it is so easy then get off your butts and spend 10 years in college, plus post doctoral work (and don't even bother to look at your student loans go way over 6 figures). Add to that the insurance that protects you from zillion dollar law suits and perhaps you won't feel so bad about trying to make a buck. Be careful what you devalue in this world. You may be left with a bunch of politicians practicing medicine.
  • by Hobie Cat on Sep 11, 2010 at 04:28 PM
    Their's too much money making in treating Cancer than finding a cure.That goes for most of the medical problems. With all this technology and equipment it seems that doctors 60 more years ago found cures, no way the technology of today.
  • by Audra Location: SoCal on Sep 11, 2010 at 01:59 PM
    Anon: There are a number of people like myself that are also photosensitive and cannot spend time in the sun. Because of that it's crucial to take a supplement with D. I get mine with my calcium/magnesium. You're absolutely right, those levels should be checked.
  • by Anonymous on Sep 11, 2010 at 11:18 AM
    So many things have been fingered as suspect of either contributing to cancer, but I have found that it seems curious that a recent study found a connection between Vitamin D deficiency and an increase in cancer rates. I was alarmed a bit at my last physicial when I was given a clean bill of health except my D levels had decreased. From what I understand its common. People do not go into the sun as much any more and when they do, many use sunblock. I was put on a Vitamin D supplement. Perhaps more people should have their levels checked on an annual basis.
  • by William on Sep 11, 2010 at 07:38 AM
    I know there are cures out there but, the govt. is not going to let you know that. Cancer research is easy to vote funding on plus, guess who are some of the biggest contributors to polictical campaigns the research companies. Money is the root of evil so that might answer some questions why there is no "so called cure". When so many families are grieving over their loved ones, somebody is getting rich.
  • by Anonymous on Sep 11, 2010 at 06:51 AM
    Doctor, cancer centers and drug companies do NOT make money off of people that are healthy. They do not want to find a cure or even ways to prevent it in the first place. Follow the money.
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