Common cancer types
The below information provides an overview of a number of common cancers in Australia. This has been sourced from the Cancer Council Australia website.
- Anal cancer
- Bone cancer
- Brain cancer
- Breast cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Cancer of unknown primary
- Cervical cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Head and neck cancers
- Liver cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Lung cancer
- Non-melanoma skin cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Testicular cancer
- Thyroid cancer
- Uterine cancer
Anal cancer is a cancer that affects the tissues of the anus. Most anal cancers are squamous cell cancers. Squamous cells are a type of cell that line the surface of the anal canal.
Rarer types of anal cancer include basal cell carcinoma, melanoma and adenocarcinoma of the anus, a cancer of the cells that make the mucus that helps the stools (faeces) move smoothly out of the anus.
In 2012, 398 Australians were diagnosed with anal cancer. It is a rare cancer, more commonly diagnosed in people aged 50 to 60 years. Incidence of anal cancer has doubled in the last 20 years.
Find out more about anal cancer.
There are more than 30 different types of primary bone cancer. Also called bone sarcoma, the most common types include: Osteosarcoma, which affects cells that grow bone tissue; Chondrosarcoma, which grows in the cartilage; and Ewing's sarcoma, which affects cells in the bone or soft tissue that multiply rapidly.
Bone cancer is rare, with 120 Australians diagnosed in 2012. More commonly diagnosed is secondary bone cancer, where a cancer that has started in another part of the body and has spread to the bones.
If you have secondary cancer in the bone, it may be useful to read information about the primary cancer in conjunction with this information, as secondary bone cancer is treated differently to primary bone cancer. A secondary cancer is named after the primary site where it began, for example lung cancer with bone secondaries.
Find out more about bone cancer.
Brain cancers include primary brain tumours, which start in the brain and almost never spread to other parts of the body, and secondary tumours (or metastases), which are caused by cancers that began in another part of the body.
There are more than 40 major types of brain tumours, which are grouped into two main types:
- benign - slow - growing and unlikely to spread. Common types are meningiomas, neuromas, pituitary tumours and craniopharyngiomas.
- malignant - cancerous and able to spread into other parts of the brain or spinal cord. Common types include astrocytomas, oligodendrogliomas, ependymomas, glioblastomas and mixed gliomas.
In 2012, 1673 brain cancers were diagnosed in Australia. The risk of being diagnosed with a brain cancer by age 85 is 1 in 110 for men and 1 in 154 for women.
Find out more about brain cancer.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in Australia and the second most common cancer to cause death in women, after lung cancer. It is uncommon in males.
In 2012, 15,050 women and 116 men were diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia. The risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer by age 85 is 1 in 8 for women and 1 in 838 for men.
Find out more about breast cancer.
Bladder cancer is when abnormal cells in the bladder grow and divide in an uncontrolled way.
There are different types:
- urothelial carcinoma, formally known as transitional cell carcinoma, is the most common form of bladder cancer (90%) and starts in the urothelial cells in the bladder wall’s innermost layer
- squamous cell carcinoma begins in the thin, flat cells that line the bladder
- adenocarcinoma is a rare form which starts in mucus-producing cells in the bladder.
In 2012, 2446 new cases of bladder cancer were diagnosed in Australia. Bladder cancer is common in people aged over 60 and is significantly more common in men than in women.
Find out more about bladder cancer.
Cancer of unknown primary (CUP) is the term used to describe a metastatic cancer (cancer that has spread) with an unknown starting point.
CUP is the twelfth most common cancer in men and the tenth most common in women. It is the fifth most common cause of cancer death in Australians, causing around 5% of cancer deaths.
Usually, when cancer spreads the secondary cancer cells look like abnormal versions of the primary cancer cells (in the tissue where the cancer began). For example, if breast cancer spreads to the lungs, the metastatic tumour in the lung is made up of cancerous breast cells (not lung cells) and is then described as metastatic breast cancer (not lung cancer).
If it is not possible to identify the type of cancer cells the diagnosis is CUP.
In 2012, 2,745 people in Australia were diagnosed with CUP.
In 2012, there were 2,595 deaths in Australia due to CUP.
Find out more about cancer of unknown primary.
The most common cervical cancer is squamous cell carcinoma, accounting for 80% of cases. Adenocarcinoma is less common and more difficult to diagnose because it starts higher in the cervix.
There were 869 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in Australia in 2012. The risk of a woman being diagnosed by age 85 is 1 in 152.
In 2013, there were 224 deaths caused by cervical cancer in Australia. Cervical cancer death rates in Australia have halved since the National Cervical Screening Program began in 1991.
Find out more about cervical cancer.
Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is the second most common cancer in both men and women in Australia and is more common in people over the age of 50.
Bowel cancer from the inner lining of the bowel and is preceded by growths called polyps, which may become invasive cancer if undetected.
In 2012, 14,957 new cases of bowel cancer were diagnosed in Australia. The risk of being diagnosed by age 85 is 1 in 11 for men and 1 in 15 for women.
Find out more about colorectal cancer.
Head and neck cancers occur inside the sinuses, nose, mouth and salivary glands down through the throat. Although these cancers are different, they are treated similarly, so are considered as a group.
In 2012, 3254 head and neck cancers were diagnosed in Australia. These figures include cancers of the tongue, gum, mouth, salivary glands, tonsils, pharynx, nasal cavity and larynx, but not cancers of the lip.
In 2012, there were 973 deaths in Australia due to head and neck cancers.
Find out more about head and neck cancers.
Primary liver cancer is a malignant tumour that begins in the liver. There are different types:
- hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) or hepatoma, is the most common type of primary liver cancer and it starts in the main cell type in the liver, the hepatocytes
- cholangiocarcinoma, or bile duct cancer, starts in the cells lining the bile ducts (which connect the liver to the bowel and gall bladder)
- angiosarcoma, which starts in the blood vessels. This is a rare type of liver cancer that is more likely to occur in people over 70.
In 2012, 1608 people were diagnosed with primary liver cancer in Australia. Men are three times as likely to be diagnosed as women.
Secondary cancer in the liver has a far higher incidence than primary liver cancer, with approximately 28,000 people in Australia diagnosed each year. It is cancer that started in another part of the body but has spread to the liver. If you have secondary cancer in the liver, it may be useful to read information about the primary cancer in conjunction with this information.
A secondary cancer is named after the primary site where it began, for example bowel cancer with liver secondaries. In this information, we use the term ‘secondary cancer in the liver’ to refer to any cancer type that has spread to the liver.
Find out more about liver cancer.
Kidney cancer is the seventh most common cancer diagnosed in Australian men and eleventh most common cancer in women.
The most common type of kidney cancer is renal cell carcinoma, accounting for about 90% of all cases. Usually only one kidney is affected, but in rare cases the cancer may develop in both kidneys.
There were 3082 new cases of kidney cancer diagnosed in Australia in 2012. Kidney cancer is more common in men - the risk of being diagnosed by age 85 is 1 in 48 for men compared to 1 in 93 for women.
In 2013, there were 962 deaths resulting from kidney cancer in Australia.
Find out more about kidney cancer.
Leukaemias (or leukemias - U.S. spelling) are cancers of the white blood cells, which begin in the bone marrow. This information refers to four types of leukaemia; acute lymphocytic leukaemia, chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, acute myeloid leukaemia and chronic myeloid leukaemia.
Leukaemias are grouped in two ways: the type of white blood cell affected – lymphoid or myeloid; and how quickly the disease develops and gets worse – acute leukaemia appears suddenly and grows quickly while chronic leukaemia appears gradually and develops slowly over months to years.
In 2012, 2812 people in Australia were diagnosed with leukaemia. Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia is the most common type of leukaemia in Australia, in 2012 1161 people were diagnosed. There were 955 people diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia, 341 with chronic myeloid leukaemia and 355 with acute lymphocytic leukaemia.
In 2013, there were 1367 deaths due to these four cancer types. Acute myeloid leukaemia caused the most deaths, with 843 deaths. Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia caused 319 deaths, chronic myeloid leukaemia caused 104 deaths and acute lymphocytic leukaemia caused 101 deaths.
Find out more about leukaemia.
Lung cancer is the fifth most common cancer in Australia but the most common cause of cancer death.
In 2012, 10,926 new cases of lung cancer (including small cell and non-small cell lung cancers) were diagnosed in Australia. This accounts for close to 9% of all cancers diagnosed. The risk of being diagnosed with lung cancer in Australia by age 85 is 1 in 13 for men and 1 in 22 for women.
Lung cancer is responsible for almost one in five cancer deaths in Australia. In 2013, there were 8217 deaths caused by lung cancer. The five year survival rate for people diagnosed with lung cancer is less than 14%.
There is no routine screening test for lung cancer.
Find out more about lung cancer.
Lymphomas are the most common form of haematological or blood cancer in Australia, and the sixth most common form of cancer overall. There are two main types of lymphoma - non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Hodgkin lymphoma – which spread and are treated differently. Around 90% of lymphomas are non-Hodgkin.
In 2012, 5452 new cases of lymphoma were diagnosed in Australia.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is more common, with 4828 new cases diagnosed in 2012, compared with 624 cases of Hodgkin lymphoma. The risk of being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma by age 85 is 1 in 40. The risk of being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma by age 85 is 1 in 410. The incidence of lymphomas has more than doubled over the past 20 years and is continuing to rise, for no known reason.
In Australia in 2013, there were 1484 deaths caused by non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and 60 deaths caused by Hodgkin lymphoma.
Find out more about lymphoma.
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer which usually occurs on the parts of the body that have been overexposed to the sun. Rare melanomas can occur in parts of the skin or body that have never been exposed to the sun.
Melanoma is the fourth most common cancer diagnosed in Australia, which along with New Zealand has the world's highest incidence rate for melanoma. Melanoma is more commonly diagnosed in men than women. The risk of being diagnosed with melanoma by age 85 is 1 in 14 for men compared to 1 in 24 for women.
In 2010, 11,405 new cases of melanoma were diagnosed in Australia, accounting for nearly one in ten cancer diagnoses.
Find out more about melanoma.
Non-melanoma skin cancers are the most common cancers in Australia, however most are not life-threatening.
There are two main types: basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. A third group of lesions called keratinocyte dysplasias includes solar keratosis, Bowenoid keratosis and squamous cell carcinoma in-situ (Bowen’s disease). These are not invasive cancers, however may require treatment as some may develop into non-melanoma skin cancers.
In 2012 there were 521 recorded deaths in Australia from non-melanoma skin cancers.
Find out more about non-melanoma skin cancer.
Mesothelioma is a cancer affecting the mesothelial cells which cover most internal organs. There are two main types of mesothelioma; pleural and peritoneal.
Pleural mesothelioma is a type of cancer that starts in the membrane that covers the lungs. Although it develops in the chest and involves the lining of the lungs, it is not a lung cancer and it is treated differently to lung cancer.
Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type of mesothelioma, and accounts for about 90% of all mesotheliomas.
The other main type is peritoneal mesothelioma, accounting for about 10% of cases. It develops in the lining of the abdomen.
In 2012, 726 new cases of mesothelioma were diagnosed in Australia, and it is more common in older men.
In 2013, there were 656 deaths caused by mesothelioma in Australia.
Find out more about mesothelioma.
Myeloma is a type of cancer that develops from plasma cells in the bone marrow. Myeloma is often called multiple myeloma because most people (90%) have multiple bone lesions at the time it is diagnosed.
Plasma cells are a type of white blood cell found in the bone marrow. They are part of the immune system and help fight infection. When cancerous, these abnormal plasma cells spread throughout the bone marrow so that there is not enough space to make enough normal blood cells.
Bone marrow is found in multiple areas of the body including the spine, skull, shoulders, ribs and pelvis.
In 2012, 1593 Australians were diagnosed with the disease. It usually occurs in people aged over 60, and is more common in men.
Find out more about myeloma.
There are three types of ovarian cancer: the common epithelial type (90% of cases) that arises from the cells on the outside of the ovary; the germ cell type that arises from the cells which produce eggs; and the rare stromal type arising from supporting tissues within the ovary.
Ovarian cancer is the eighth most common cancer and the sixth most common cause of cancer death affecting women in Australia.
In 2012, 1378 new cases of ovarian cancer were diagnosed in Australian women. The risk of being diagnosed before age 85 is 1 in 82.
In Australia, the overall five year survival rate for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer is approximately 43%.
In 2013, there were 949 deaths caused by ovarian cancer in Australia.
Find out more about ovarian cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is the ninth most common cancer in men and tenth most common cancer in women in Australia.
Unfortunately pancreatic cancer has a low survival rate as it is most often diagnosed at an advanced stage. Pancreatic cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer death over all.
In 2011, 2748 new cases of pancreatic cancer were diagnosed in Australia. The risk of being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer by age 85 is 1 in 56 for Australian men and 1 in 71 for Australian women.
In 2012, there were 2524 deaths resulting from pancreatic cancer in Australia – over 5% of all cancer deaths.
Find out more about pancreatic cancer.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Australia1 and the third most common cause of cancer death. It is more common in older men, with 85% of cases diagnosed in men over 65 years of age.
In 2012, 20,065 new cases of prostate cancer were diagnosed in Australia. This represents 30% of all cancers diagnosed in Australian men. The risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer by age of 85 is 1 in 5 men.
In 2013, there were 3112 deaths caused by prostate cancer, accounting for 13% of all cancer deaths in Australian men.
Find out more about prostate cancer.
- Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, usually begins in the lining in the upper part of the stomach.
- Stomach cancer is a common cancer in Australia, however the number of people diagnosed has been falling. It is rare in people under 50 years of age and affects more men than women.
- In 2012, 2117 new cases of stomach cancer were diagnosed in Australia. Stomach cancer affects nearly twice as many men as women. The risk of being diagnosed with stomach cancer by age 85 is 1 in 63 for men compared to 1 in 136 for women.
- Find out more about stomach cancer.
Testicular cancer is the second most common cancer in young men (aged 18 to 39).
The most common type is seminoma, which usually occurs in men aged between 25 and 50 years. The other main type is non-seminoma, which is more common in younger men, usually in their 20s.
In 2012, 768 new cases of testicular cancer were diagnosed in Australia. For Australian men, the risk of being diagnosed with testicular cancer by age 85 is 1 in 201. The rate of men diagnosed with testicular cancer has grown by more than 50% over the past 30 years, however the reason for this is not known.
Find out more about testicular cancer.
There are several different types of thyroid cancer, the most common is papillary thyroid cancer, which usually grows in one lobe of the thyroid gland (about 70-80% of all cases). Follicular thyroid cancer accounts for about 25% of thyroid cancers.
Less common thyroid cancers include medullary thyroid cancer, anaplastic thyroid cancer and thyroid sarcoma or lymphoma.
In 2012, 2297 Australians were diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and it is more common in women.
Find out more about thyroid cancer.
There are two main types of uterine cancer. Endometrial cancers begin in the lining of the uterus (endometrium) and account for about 75% of all cases; and uterine sarcomas, which develop in the muscle tissue (myometrium), and is a rarer form of uterine cancer.
Also called cancer of the uterus, it is the most diagnosed gynaecological cancer in Australia.
In 2012, 2397 women were diagnosed with cancer of the uterus, and it is more common in women aged over 50.
Find out more about uterine cancer.