Types of Cancer in Women: Facts and Statistics to Know

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Marchese, S. (2022, October 17). Types of Cancer in Women: Facts and Statistics to Know. Asbestos.com. Retrieved December 2, 2022, from https://www.asbestos.com/cancer/women/

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Cancer is one of the most common causes of death in the United States, second only to heart disease. 

One American woman is diagnosed with cancer almost every 30 seconds, and one dies from cancer every two minutes. Just under 2 million Americans will receive a cancer diagnosis this year and more than 600,000 people will die as a result of cancer, according to projections from the American Cancer Society

Women of all ages face a variety of cancer risks, with 39% of American women developing cancer at some point in their lives. Although men experience a higher rate overall, women face higher incidences of cancer than men between the ages of 20 and 54. Women ages 40-44 actually experience more than double the incidence rate of cancer diagnoses than men do.
Understanding the many types of cancer affecting women — including important statistics, symptoms to watch for and suggestions for prevention through screenings — can empower women to take action in building a healthy future for themselves. Below we identify the most common cancers diagnosed in women and detail 11 cancers impacting their lives.

How often women are diagnosed with cancer and how often women die from cancer


Most Common Cancers in Women

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common cancers diagnosed in women, ranked by incidence rate, are:

  1. Breast
  2. Lung
  3. Colorectal
  4. Endometrial and uterine
  5. Thyroid
  6. Skin (melanoma)
  7. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  8. Kidney
  9. Pancreatic
  10. Leukemia
  11. Ovarian

Some cancers are less common than the 11 cancers listed above, such as cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers. Two of the cancer categories on the list occur only in those assigned female at birth: endometrial and uterine cancers, and ovarian cancer. While breast cancer predominantly affects women, men are also vulnerable to the disease.

12 cancers affecting women

Breast Cancer Statistics

Breast cancer is one of the most talked about and most commonly diagnosed cancer among women, accounting for 30.8% of new cancer diagnoses for women in 2022.

  • American women have a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer. (source)
  • An estimated 287,850 women (and 2,710 men) are projected to receive a diagnosis of invasive breast cancer in 2022. (source)
  • Breast cancer is projected to be the most common cancer in America by 2040, with an estimated 364,000 cases, surpassing melanoma cases estimated to total 219,000 that year. (source)
  • There are more than 4 million breast cancer survivors currently living in the United States, the most survivors by far of any cancer affecting women. (source)
  • Women from minority racial and ethnic groups experience higher incidence rates of breast cancer. This is partially attributed to limited access to accredited mammography facilities and lengthy intervals between screenings, resulting in delays in diagnosis. (source)

Common Symptoms

The most common signs of breast cancer are:

  • A lump in the breast.
  • Breast skin redness.
  • Breast skin thickening.
  • Breast swelling.
  • Nipple retraction.
  • Nipple skin scaliness.
  • Spontaneous nipple discharge.

Breast cancer typically shows no symptoms in its early stages, which is why regular screenings through mammography (X-ray of the breast) are critical.

Screening Advice

Medical professionals’ suggested guidelines for breast cancer screenings for women at average risk are:

  • Ages 40-44: Optional annual mammograms.
  • Ages 45-54: Recommended annual mammograms.
  • Ages 55+: Choice between mammograms every two years or continue annually.

Breast cancer screenings should continue as long as you are in overall good health and projected to live another 10 or more years.

Women with a family history of breast cancer, certain genetic mutations or other risk factors are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Their regular screenings should combine a mammogram with an MRI for additional diagnostic information.

Some studies have shown a potential link between breast cancer and asbestos exposure. Those who have experienced such exposure should be mindful of breast and other cancer screenings.

Cervical Cancer Statistics

Cervical cancer mainly occurs in women over the age of 30. It is typically caused by a long-lasting human papillomavirus infection. HPV is generally transmitted from person to person during sex.

  • In 2022, approximately 14,100 women are projected to receive a cervical cancer diagnosis and about 4,280 will die from the disease. (source)
  • Cervical cancer incidence rates are highest among Hispanic women, while Black women experience the highest death rates from cervical cancer. (source)
  • 7.3 out of every 100,000 women will develop cervical cancer, making it the highest incidence rate for HPV-associated cancers in the United States. (source)
  • With the best test rate in the country, 80% of women in Connecticut report having had a Pap smear to test for cervical cancer in the last three years, while only 64% of women in Utah can say the same (the lowest rate in the U.S.). (source)
  • The average age at diagnosis for cervical cancer patients is 50, but more than 20% of cases occur in women over the age of 65. (source)

Common Symptoms

The most common signs of cervical cancer are:

  • Abnormal discharge from the vagina.
  • Pain during sex.
  • Pain in the pelvic region.
  • Menstrual periods that are heavier or last longer than usual.
  • Unusual vaginal bleeding, potentially occurring after vaginal sex, after menopause or between menstrual periods.

Undiagnosed cases of cervical cancer in the advanced stages may also bring symptoms such as leg swelling, difficulty urinating or having a bowel movement, or blood in your urine. Early-stage cervical cancers usually show no symptoms in patients. 

Screening Advice

The American Cancer Society’s screening suggestions for cervical cancer for those at average risk are:

  • Ages 25-65: Recommended Pap smear screening every three years or primary HPV test every five years.
  • Ages 65 and Over: Stop regular screenings if previous 10 years’ worth of results were normal.

At one time, cervical cancer ranked as the most common cause of cancer deaths for women in the U.S. The incidence rate dropped dramatically after the adoption of the Pap test for screening.

Cancer screening recommendations for women

Colorectal Cancer Statistics

Colorectal cancer develops in the colon or rectum. Based on current annual incidence rates, it is the third-most common cancer (excluding skin cancer) diagnosed in American men and women.

  • An estimated 52,140 women will be newly diagnosed with colon cancer and 18,200 will receive a rectal cancer diagnosis in 2022. (source)
  • Native American women experience the highest incidence rate of colorectal cancer at 46.5 new cases per 100,000 women, compared to the rate of 32.8 across women of all races. (source)
  • Colorectal cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths for women in the United States, with 24,180 women projected to die from the disease this year. (source)
  • Native American and Black women tie for the highest death rate for colorectal cancer among women, with each group experiencing 14.3 deaths per 100,000 American women. (source)
  • As a result of increased screening practices, the death rate for colorectal cancer has dropped by over 56% since 1970. (source)

Common Symptoms

The most common signs of colorectal cancer are:

  • Abdominal discomfort, such as bloating, fullness, cramps and persistent gas pains.
  • Bright red or excessively dark blood in your stool.
  • Constant fatigue.
  • Diarrhea, constipation or inability to fully empty your bowels.
  • Shift in bowel habits.
  • Stool that is abnormally narrow or thin.
  • Unexplained anemia.
  • Unexplained weight loss.

It is important to note that many of the above symptoms are the same as symptoms of other common medical conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome or hemorrhoids. Most people do not experience any symptoms of colorectal cancer unless the disease is advanced.

Screening Advice

Individuals at average risk for colorectal cancer should follow these screening guidelines:

  • Ages 45-75: Recommended regular screening through a stool-based test or visual examination of the colon or rectum.
  • Ages 76-85: Optional screening based on your personal preferences, overall health and life expectancy.
  • Ages 85 and Over: Stop all colorectal cancer screenings.

The frequency of screenings is dependent on which type of test you select, with some stool-based tests occurring every year or every three years. Visual screening exams require more time-intensive medical procedures such as a colonoscopy and may only be necessary every five or 10 years.

Lung Cancer Statistics

Lung cancer is the second-most diagnosed cancer in women. It accounts for 25% of all cancer deaths among men and women, more than breast, colon and prostate cancer deaths combined.

  • Women have a 1 in 17 chance of developing lung cancer in their lifetime. (source)
  • American women will experience 118,830 new diagnoses of lung and bronchus cancers and 61,360 deaths in 2022. (source)
  • While men are diagnosed more often with lung cancer each year, more women actually live with the disease. (source)
  • Women have a higher survival rate than men for lung and bronchus cancers, resulting in 367,570 female survivors currently living in the U.S. compared to only 287,050 male survivors. (source)
  • The incidence rate of new lung cancer cases has risen 84% over the past 42 years in women, but declined 36% for men. (source)

Common Symptoms

The most common signs of lung cancer are:

  • Persistent cough that worsens over time.
  • Blood clots.
  • Bone pain or fractures.
  • Consistent chest pain.
  • Coughing up blood.
  • Frequent respiratory infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia.
  • Headaches.
  • Hoarseness.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing.
  • Weight loss.

Since lung cancer usually does not cause symptoms in its early stages, many of these potential symptoms may only arise when the disease has spread to other parts of the body.

Screening Advice

Lung cancer screening suggestions focus on people at higher risk, specifically cigarette smokers:

  • Ages 50-80: Recommended annual low-dose CT scan screening for current or former smokers in fairly good health.

If it is caught before it spreads, lung cancer patients increase their five-year survival rate by 60%. You can take the American Lung Association’s “Saved by the Scan” quiz to determine your screening eligibility.

And explore our lung cancer statistics resource for supplemental data.

Common symptoms of cancers that affect women

Ovarian Cancer Statistics

As the fifth-most common cause of cancer deaths among women, ovarian cancer kills more women than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. Experts have noted recent concerns about talc contaminated with asbestos — often used in makeup products — as a possible cause of ovarian cancer.

  • There is a 1 in 78 chance a woman will develop ovarian cancer in her lifetime and a 1 in 108 chance it will lead to her death. (source)
  • Ovarian cancer diagnoses are anticipated for about 19,880 women this year, and about 12,810 women will die from it. (source)
  • Women over the age of 63 receive about half of all ovarian cancer diagnoses. (source)
  • Over the 20-year period between 1999-2019, there was a 32% decline in incidence rates of ovarian cancer. (source)
  • The survival rate for ovarian cancer is significantly lower than that of other cancers that impact women, with a 49.1% relative five-year survival rate. (source)

Common Symptoms

The most common signs of ovarian cancer are:

  • Abdominal or pelvic pain.
  • Digestive issues such as gas, bloating and loss of appetite.
  • Feeling a constant need to urinate.
  • Weight loss with a swollen belly.

If these symptoms last more than several weeks, they may be indicators of ovarian cancer. Keep in mind that even though ovarian cancer is more common in older women, those who never had children or had their first child after age 35 might have a higher risk of this type of cancer. The use of estrogen in hormone replacement therapy also increases a woman’s risk. 

Screening Advice

There are currently no widely recommended screening tests for women at average risk of ovarian cancer. While a Pap smear test is useful in cervical cancer screenings, the test is not capable of identifying ovarian cancer. Doctors may suggest some tests that can assist in identifying ovarian cancer for patients at high risk or those experiencing symptoms.

We’ve put together more than 40 additional ovarian cancer statistics for more information.

Skin Cancer Statistics

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer overall. Melanoma is just one type of skin cancer, but it is by far the most dangerous. It accounts for a large majority of skin cancer deaths, but only 1% of skin cancer cases.

  • Melanoma is projected to affect 1 in 40 women in their lifetime. (source)
  • About 42,600 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in American women and 2,570 women are expected to die from the disease in 2022. (source)
  • Melanoma is one of the most common cancers in people under the age of 30, especially younger women. (source)
  • Women are often diagnosed at a younger age (61) than men (67), attributed in part to differences in recreational and work-related exposure to ultraviolet radiation and the frequency of medical interactions. (source)
  • Young women who have tanned indoors six times or more have an increased risk of a melanoma diagnosis in their 20s. (source)

Common Symptoms

The most common signs of melanoma are:

  • Changes in the color, size or shape of a mole or other skin lesion.
  • A new growth on your skin.

Taking notice of changes in the skin is the best method for detecting melanoma early.

Screening Advice

The American Cancer Society has no existing guidelines for medically monitored skin cancer screenings. However, many health care professionals recommend individuals check their own skin once a month for potential abnormalities. The ACS created a step-by-step guide on how to do a skin self-exam.

Uterine and Endometrial Cancer Statistics

Uterine and endometrial cancers are often listed together because the endometrium is the inner lining of the uterus.

  • Estimates for 2022 project that 14,100 women will be diagnosed with uterine cancer and there will be 4,280 deaths related to the disease. (source)
  • Endometrial cancer is anticipated to kill 12,550 American women and be diagnosed in 65,950 women this year. (source)
  • The median age of diagnosis for uterine cancer is 63. (source)
  • There are 891,560 endometrial cancer survivors living in the U.S. as of Jan. 1, 2022. (source)
  • Uterine cancer survivors are the second-highest group of female cancer survivors in number, following breast cancer. (source)

Common Symptoms

The most common signs of uterine and endometrial cancers are:

  • Abnormal or increasing vaginal bleeding between periods or after menopause.
  • Pelvic pain.
  • Spotting.
  • Unusual vaginal discharge.

Many women with uterine cancers do not show any symptoms. Those listed above may also be indicative of other noncancerous medical conditions.

Screening Advice

There are currently no screening tests or exams available for women at average risk to identify endometrial cancer in the early stages. Uterine cancer may potentially be discovered through a Pap smear, but the test results are not guaranteed to specifically identify uterine cancer and are therefore not recommended as a screening for the disease.

For women with symptoms, medical history or family history of related cancers, doctors may use an endometrial biopsy or other tests such as an MRI or CT scan to screen for and diagnose these types of gynecological cancers.

Rare Cancers Affecting Women

Rare cancers affecting women

Several other cancers not commonly known are also worth noting for their impact on the lives of women.

Gestational Trophoblastic Disease (GTD)

Gestational trophoblastic disease, commonly referred to as GTD, is a group of rare tumors that can develop during any pregnancy. The tumors show up in the outer part of the sac that surrounds the fetus as it grows, known as the fetal chorion. When identified early, GTD is almost always curable.

  • GTD affects approximately 110 to 120 per 100,000 pregnancies in the United States. (source)
  • Most cases of GTD occur in nonviable pregnancies known as molar pregnancies, which predominantly impact women of Asian, Hispanic and Native American descent. (source)
  • An extremely rare and aggressive type of GTD tumor called choriocarcinoma develops in about two to seven out of every 100,000 pregnancies. (source)

Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that develops in the thin layer of tissues surrounding internalorgans in the chest or abdomen. It is caused by inhaling or ingesting carcinogenic asbestos fibers, which most women diagnosed with mesothelioma were exposed to in their homes or workplaces. For decades, asbestos was often used in building materials for residential homes and business spaces, with usage declining since the 1970s. Typically it takes between 20 and 60 years after asbestos exposure for signs of mesothelioma to develop.

  • Approximately four American women per 1 million died due to malignant mesothelioma in 2020. (source)
  • Malignant mesothelioma patients receive a poor prognosis due to a median survival of one year from diagnosis. (source)
  • In 2020, the largest number of mesothelioma-related deaths in women was connected to work as homemakers (129 deaths) and in the health care and social assistance industry (89 deaths). (source)

Find more facts on our Women & Mesothelioma page.

Vaginal Cancer

Vaginal cancer is quite rare, accounting for only 1% to 2% of all gynecological cancers. An estimated 8,870 women are projected to be diagnosed with the disease and 1,630 will die from it this year.

  • Similar to cervical cancer, approximately 75% of vaginal cancer is caused by HPV. (source)
  • Black women face the highest incidence rate and death rate of all women. (source)
  • Vaginal cancer typically afflicts older women, with 67 being the average age of diagnosis. (source)

Vulvar Cancer

Vulvar cancer comprises approximately 6% of gynecological cancers and less than 1% of all cancers impacting women.

  • Women face a 1 in 333 chance of developing vulvar cancer at some point during their lifetime. (source)
  • White women have the highest incidence rate and death rate of all women. (source)
  • The five-year survival rate of vulvar cancer varies drastically depending on the cancer’s spread at the time of diagnosis. If it has not spread, the survival rate is 87%. If it has spread to surrounding organs and tissue the rate is 49%, and if it has spread to a distant part of the body the survival rate drops to 22%. (source)

Women make up 50.5% of the U.S. population, and cancers affecting them are an important health concern. Women can take steps to reduce their risks of cancer by following the screening guidelines laid out by health care professionals.

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