What Is Cancer?

Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells. If the spread is not controlled, it can result in death. Cancer is caused by both external factors (tobacco, infectious organisms, chemicals, and radiation) and internal factors (inherited mutations, hormones, immune conditions, and mutations that occur from metabolism). These causal factors may act together or in sequence to initiate or pro- mote the development of cancer. Ten or more years often pass between exposure to external factors and detectable cancer. Cancer is treated with surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, biological therapy, and targeted therapy.

Can Cancer Be Prevented?

A substantial proportion of cancers could be prevented. All cancers caused by cigarette smoking and heavy use of alcohol could be prevented completely. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2013 about 174,100 cancer deaths will be caused by tobacco use. The World Cancer Research Fund estimates that about one- quarter to one-third of the new cancer cases expected to occur in the US in 2013 will be related to overweight or obesity, physical inactivity, and poor nutrition, and thus could also be prevented. Click here to learn more about cancer risk and prevention.

Certain cancers are related to infectious agents, such as human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori); many of these cancers could be prevented through behavioral changes, vaccines, or antibiotics.

Many of the more than 2 million skin cancers that are diagnosed annually could be prevented by protecting skin from excessive sun exposure and avoiding indoor tanning.

In addition to preventing cancer through the avoidance of risk factors, regular screening tests that allow the detection and removal of precancerous growths can prevent cancers of the cervix, colon, and rectum.

Early detection of cancer, which usually results in less extensive treatment and better outcomes, can also be achieved through screening for some cancers. Screening is known to reduce mortality for cancers of the breast, colon, rectum, and cervix.

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Incidence & Mortality

How Many People Alive Today Have Ever Had Cancer?

The National Cancer Institute estimates that approximately 13.7 million Americans with a history of cancer were alive on January 1, 2012. Some of these individuals were cancer free, while others still had evidence of cancer and may have been undergoing treatment.

How Many New Cases Are Expected to Occur This Year?

About 1,660,290 new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2013. This estimate does not include carcinoma in situ (non- invasive cancer) of any site except urinary bladder, and does not include basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers, which are not required to be reported to cancer registries.

How Many People Are Expected to Die of Cancer This Year?

In 2013, about 580,350 Americans are expected to die of cancer, almost 1,600 people per day. Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the US, exceeded only by heart disease, accounting for nearly 1 of every 4 deaths.

What Are the Costs of Cancer?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that the over- all costs of cancer in 2008 were $201.5 billion: $77.4 billion for direct medical costs (total of all health expenditures) and $124.0 billion for indirect mortality costs (cost of lost productivity due to premature death). PLEASE NOTE: These numbers are not comparable to those published in previous years because as of 2011, the NIH is calculating the estimates using a different data source: the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The MEPS estimates are based on more current, nationally representative data and are used extensively in scientific publications. As a result, direct and indirect costs will no longer be projected to the current year, and estimates of indirect morbidity costs have been discontinued. For more information, please visit about/factpdf.htm.

Lack of health insurance and other barriers prevents many Americans from receiving optimal health care. According to the US Census Bureau, approximately 50 million Americans were uninsured in 2010; almost one-third of Hispanics (31%) and one in 10 children (17 years of age and younger) had no health insurance coverage. Uninsured patients and those from ethnic minorities are substantially more likely to be diagnosed with cancer at a later stage, when treatment can be more extensive and more costly. For more information on the relationship between health insurance and cancer, see Cancer Facts & Figures 2008, Special Section, available online at

As a Ride to Conquer Cancer champion, the most powerful move you can make is to educate yourself, your family and your friends about cancer. You can find the most up-to-date information right here, along with important facts for your potential donors. Read the latest, ground-breaking news about the disease and its many forms, cancer treatment and research. The need for funding and awareness has never been more critical, which is why your efforts are so greatly appreciated, and immediately being put to good use right here in Philly.

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Source: American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2013. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2013.

About Cancer In The U.S.