How many kinds of cancer are there, and what are they?
There are many different kinds of cancer. Even now, scientists and doctors continue to identify new kinds of cancer. Cancer itself is defined as abnormal cells that divide and spread rapidly, oftentimes clumping together to form malignant tumors. These tumors can damage surrounding normal tissue or even metastasize, which means that cancerous cells break off from the tumor and spread to different areas of the body. To learn more about cancer in general, read the What is cancer? section.
Since there are so many different kinds of cancer, it would be nearly impossible to list all of them in one place without being overwhelming. That being said, if your loved one has been diagnosed with a type of cancer that is not listed here, feel free to let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will do our best to supply you, as well as any future visitors, with information on whichever type of cancer it may be.
Below is a list of cancers1 taken from the Mayo Clinic. For more information on your loved one’s specific cancer, visit their website or head to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America’s list of cancers.
Adrenal Cancer/Adrenocortical Cancer
Adrenal cancer is a rare cancer that begins in the small, triangular glands (adrenal glands) located on top of your kidneys. Adrenal glands produce hormones that give instructions to virtually every organ and tissue in your body. Adrenal cancer, also called adrenocortical cancer, can occur at any age. But it’s most likely to affect children younger than 5 and adults in their 40s and 50s.
Adrenal cancer is often aggressive. When found early, there is a chance for cure. But if the cancer has spread to areas beyond the adrenal gland, cure becomes less likely. Treatment can be used to delay progression or recurrence.
Not all growths that form in the adrenal glands are cancer. Noncancerous (benign) adrenal tumors, such as adenoma or pheochromocytoma, also can develop in the adrenal glands.
Anal cancer is an uncommon type of cancer that occurs in the anal canal. The anal canal is a short tube at the end of your rectum through which stool leaves your body. Anal cancer can cause signs and symptoms such as rectal bleeding and anal pain.
Most people with anal cancer are treated with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation. Though combining anal cancer treatments increases the chance of a cure, the combined treatments also increase the risk of side effects.
Bile Duct Cancer/Perihilar Cholangiocarcinoma
Bile duct cancer is cancer that forms in the slender tubes (bile ducts) that carry the digestive fluid bile. Bile ducts connect your liver to your gallbladder and to your small intestine.
Bile duct cancer, also known as cholangiocarcinoma, is a rare form of cancer that occurs mostly in people older than age 50, though it can occur at any age.
Doctors divide bile duct cancer into different types based on where the cancer occurs in the bile ducts:
- Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma occurs in the parts of the bile ducts within the liver and is sometimes classified as a type of liver cancer.
- Hilar cholangiocarcinoma occurs in the bile ducts just outside of the liver. This type is also called perihilar cholangiocarcinoma.
- Distal cholangiocarcinoma occurs in the portion of the bile duct nearest the small intestine
Bile duct cancer is an aggressive form of cancer that progresses quickly and is difficult to treat.
Bladder cancer is a type of cancer that begins in your bladder — a balloon-shaped organ in your pelvic area that stores urine. Bladder cancer begins most often in the cells that line the inside of the bladder. Bladder cancer typically affects older adults, though it can occur at any age.
The great majority of bladder cancers are diagnosed at an early stage — when bladder cancer is highly treatable. However, even early-stage bladder cancer is likely to recur. For this reason, bladder cancer survivors often undergo follow-up tests for years after treatment to look for bladder cancer recurrence.
Bone cancer is an uncommon cancer that begins in a bone. Bone cancer can begin in any bone in the body, but it most commonly affects the long bones that make up the arms and legs. Several types of bone cancer exist. Some types of bone cancer occur primarily in children, while others affect mostly adults.
The term “bone cancer” does not include cancers that begin elsewhere in the body and spread (metastasize) to the bone. Instead, those cancers are named for where they began, such as breast cancer that has metastasized to the bone.
Brain cancer is cancer that begins in the brain cells. As brain cancer grows, it creates pressure on surrounding brain tissue and causes signs and symptoms, such as headaches, nausea and balance problems.
Breast cancer is cancer that forms in the cells of the breasts. After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women in the United States. Breast cancer can occur in both men and women, but it is far more common in women.
Substantial support for breast cancer awareness and research funding has helped improve the screening and diagnosis and advances in the treatment of breast cancer. Breast cancer survival rates have increased, and the number of deaths steadily has been declining, which is largely due to a number of factors such as earlier detection, a new personalized approach to treatment and a better understanding of the disease.
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix — the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, play a role in causing most cervical cancer.
When exposed to HPV, a woman’s immune system typically prevents the virus from doing harm. In a small group of women, however, the virus survives for years, contributing to the process that causes some cells on the surface of the cervix to become cancer cells.
You can reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer by having screening tests and receiving a vaccine that protects against HPV infection.
Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine (colon), the lower part of your digestive system. Rectal cancer is cancer of the last several inches of the colon. Together, they’re often referred to as colorectal cancers.
Most cases of colon cancer begin as small, noncancerous (benign) clumps of cells called adenomatous polyps. Over time some of these polyps become colon cancers. Polyps may be small and produce few, if any, symptoms. For this reason, doctors recommend regular screening tests to help prevent colon cancer by identifying and removing polyps before they become colon cancer.
Endometrial cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the uterus. The uterus is the hollow, pear-shaped pelvic organ in women where fetal development occurs. Endometrial cancer begins in the layer of cells that form the lining (endometrium) of the uterus. Endometrial cancer is sometimes called uterine cancer. Other types of cancer can form in the uterus, including uterine sarcoma, but they are much less common than endometrial cancer.
Endometrial cancer is often detected at an early stage because it frequently produces abnormal vaginal bleeding, which prompts women to see their doctors. If endometrial cancer is discovered early, removing the uterus surgically often cures endometrial cancer.
Esophageal cancer is cancer that occurs in the esophagus — a long, hollow tube that runs from your throat to your stomach. Your esophagus carries food you swallow to your stomach to be digested. Esophageal cancer usually begins in the cells that line the inside of the esophagus. Esophageal cancer can occur anywhere along the esophagus, but in people in the United States, it occurs most often in the lower portion of the esophagus. More men than women get esophageal cancer.
Esophageal cancer isn’t common in the United States. In other areas of the world, such as Asia and parts of Africa, esophageal cancer is much more common.
Eye Cancer/Ocular Melanoma
Melanoma is a type of cancer that develops in the cells that produce melanin — the pigment that gives your skin its color. Your eyes also have melanin-producing cells and can develop melanoma. Eye melanoma is also called ocular melanoma.
Most eye melanomas form in the part of the eye you can’t see when looking in a mirror. This makes eye melanoma difficult to detect. In addition, eye melanoma typically doesn’t cause early signs or symptoms.
Treatment is available for eye melanomas. Treatment for some small eye melanomas may not interfere with your vision. However, treatment for large eye melanomas typically causes some vision loss.
Gallbladder cancer is cancer that begins in the gallbladder. Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ on the right side of your abdomen, just beneath your liver. The gallbladder stores bile, a digestive fluid produced by your liver.
Gallbladder cancer is uncommon. When gallbladder cancer is discovered at its earliest stages, the chance for a cure is very good. But most gallbladder cancers are discovered at a late stage, when the prognosis is often very poor.
Gallbladder cancer is difficult to diagnose because it often causes no specific signs or symptoms. Also, the relatively hidden nature of the gallbladder makes it easier for gallbladder cancer to grow without being detected.
Gastric Cancer/Stomach Cancer
Stomach cancer is cancer that occurs in the stomach — the muscular sac located in the upper middle of your abdomen, just below your ribs. Your stomach receives and holds the food you eat and then helps to break down and digest it. Another term for stomach cancer is gastric cancer. These two terms most often refer to stomach cancer that begins in the mucus-producing cells on the inside lining of the stomach (adenocarcinoma).
Adenocarcinoma is the most common type of stomach cancer.
Stomach cancer is uncommon in the United States, and the number of people diagnosed with the disease each year is declining. Stomach cancer is much more common in other areas of the world.
Hodgkin’s Lymphoma/Hodgkin’s Disease
Hodgkin’s lymphoma — formerly known as Hodgkin’s disease — is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of your immune system. In Hodgkin’s lymphoma, cells in the lymphatic system grow abnormally and may spread beyond the lymphatic system. As Hodgkin’s lymphoma progresses, it compromises your body’s ability to fight infection.
Hodgkin’s lymphoma is one of two common types of cancers of the lymphatic system. The other type, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, is far more common.
Advances in diagnosis and treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma have helped give people with this diagnosis the chance for a full recovery. The prognosis continues to improve for people with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Kidney Cancer/Renal Cell Carcinoma/Wilms’ Tumor
Kidney cancer is cancer that originates in the kidneys. Your kidneys are two bean-shaped organs, each about the size of your fist. They’re located behind your abdominal organs, with one kidney on each side of your spine.
In adults, the most common type of kidney cancer is renal cell carcinoma. Other less common types of kidney cancer can occur. Young children are more likely to develop a kind of kidney cancer called Wilms’ tumor.
The incidence of kidney cancer seems to be increasing. One reason for this may be the fact that imaging techniques such as computerized tomography (CT) scan are being used more often. These tests may lead to the accidental discovery of more kidney cancers.
Leukemia is cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues, including the bone marrow and the lymphatic system. Many types of leukemia exist. Some forms of leukemia are more common in children. Other forms of leukemia occur mostly in adults.
Leukemia usually involves the white blood cells. Your white blood cells are potent infection fighters — they normally grow and divide in an orderly way, as your body needs them. But in people with leukemia, the bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells, which don’t function properly.
Treatment for leukemia can be complex — depending on the type of leukemia and other factors. But there are strategies and resources that can help to make your treatment successful.
Liver Cancer/Hepatocellular Carcinoma/Intrahepatic Cholangiocarcinoma and Hepatoblastoma
Liver cancer is cancer that begins in the cells of your liver. Your liver is a football-sized organ that sits in the upper right portion of your abdomen, beneath your diaphragm and above your stomach. Several types of cancer can form in the liver. The most common type of liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma, which begins in the main type of liver cell (hepatocyte). Other types of liver cancer, such as intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma and hepatoblastoma, are much less common.
Not all cancers that affect the liver are considered liver cancer. Cancer that begins in another area of the body — such as the colon, lung or breast — and then spreads to the liver is called metastatic cancer rather than liver cancer. And this type of cancer is named after the organ in which it began — such as metastatic colon cancer to describe cancer that begins in the colon and spreads to the liver. Cancer that spreads to the liver is more common than cancer that begins in the liver cells.
Lung cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the lungs. Your lungs are two spongy organs in your chest that take in oxygen when you inhale and release carbon dioxide when you exhale.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, among both men and women. Lung cancer claims more lives each year than do colon, prostate, ovarian and breast cancers combined.
People who smoke have the greatest risk of lung cancer. The risk of lung cancer increases with the length of time and number of cigarettes you’ve smoked. If you quit smoking, even after smoking for many years, you can significantly reduce your chances of developing lung cancer.
Multiple myeloma is a cancer that forms in a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell. Plasma cells help you fight infections by making antibodies that recognize and attack germs. Multiple myeloma causes cancer cells to accumulate in the bone marrow, where they crowd out healthy blood cells. Rather than produce helpful antibodies, the cancer cells produce abnormal proteins that can cause kidney problems.
Treatment for multiple myeloma isn’t always necessary. If you’re not experiencing signs and symptoms, you may not require treatment. If signs and symptoms develop, a number of treatments can help control your multiple myeloma.
Nasopharyngeal (nay-zoh- fuh-RIN- jee-ul) carcinoma is cancer that occurs in the nasopharynx, which is located behind your nose and above the back of your throat. Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is rare in the United States. In other parts of the world — specifically Southeast Asia — nasopharyngeal carcinoma occurs much more frequently.
Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is difficult to detect early. That’s probably because the nasopharynx isn’t easy to examine and symptoms of nasopharyngeal carcinoma mimic those of other, more-common conditions.
Treatment for nasopharyngeal carcinoma usually involves radiation therapy, chemotherapy or a combination of the two. You can work with your doctor to determine the exact approach depending on your particular situation.
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is cancer that originates in your lymphatic system, the disease-fighting network spread throughout your body. In non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, tumors develop from lymphocytes — a type of white blood cell.
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is more common than the other general type of lymphoma — Hodgkin lymphoma. Many different subtypes of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma exist. The most common non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma subtypes include diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and follicular lymphoma.
Mouth Cancer/Oral Cancer/Oral Cavity Cancer
Mouth cancer refers to cancer that develops in any of the parts that make up the mouth. Mouth cancer can occur on the:
- Inside lining of the cheeks
- Roof of the mouth
- Floor of the mouth
Cancer that occurs on the inside of the mouth is sometimes called oral cancer or oral cavity cancer.
Mouth cancer is one of several types of cancer grouped in a category called head and neck cancers. Mouth cancer and other head and neck cancers are often treated similarly.
Osteosarcoma is a type of bone cancer that begins in the cells that form your bones. Osteosarcoma is most often found in the long bones in your arms and legs, though it can occur in any bone. Osteosarcoma tends to occur in children and young adults, but it can also occur in older adults.
Osteosarcoma treatment often involves surgery and chemotherapy. Sometimes radiation therapy may be recommended.
Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the ovaries. Women have two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus. The ovaries — each about the size of an almond — produce eggs (ova) as well as the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Ovarian cancer often goes undetected until it has spread within the pelvis and abdomen. At this late stage, ovarian cancer is more difficult to treat and is frequently fatal. Early-stage ovarian cancer, in which the disease is confined to the ovary, is more likely to be treated successfully.
Surgery and chemotherapy are generally used to treat ovarian cancer.
Pancreatic cancer begins in the tissues of your pancreas — an organ in your abdomen that lies horizontally behind the lower part of your stomach. Your pancreas secretes enzymes that aid digestion and hormones that help regulate the metabolism of sugars.
Pancreatic cancer often has a poor prognosis, even when diagnosed early. Pancreatic cancer typically spreads rapidly and is seldom detected in its early stages, which is a major reason why it’s a leading cause of cancer death. Signs and symptoms may not appear until pancreatic cancer is quite advanced and complete surgical removal isn’t possible.
Pituitary tumors are abnormal growths that develop in your pituitary gland. Some pituitary tumors result in too many of the hormones that regulate important functions of your body. Some pituitary tumors can cause your pituitary gland to produce lower levels of hormones.
Most pituitary tumors are noncancerous (benign) growths (adenomas). Adenomas remain in your pituitary gland or surrounding tissues and don’t spread to other parts of your body.
There are various options for treating pituitary tumors, including removing the tumor, controlling its growth and managing your hormone levels with medications. Your doctor may recommend observation — or a “wait and see” approach.
Prostate cancer is cancer that occurs in a man’s prostate — a small walnut-shaped gland that produces the seminal fluid that nourishes and transports sperm. Prostate cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in men. Prostate cancer usually grows slowly and initially remains confined to the prostate gland, where it may not cause serious harm. While some types of prostate cancer grow slowly and may need minimal or no treatment, other types are aggressive and can spread quickly.
Prostate cancer that is detected early — when it’s still confined to the prostate gland — has a better chance of successful treatment.
Rectal cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells in the rectum — the last section of your large intestine. Rectal cancer is often grouped together with colon cancer, and together they’re called colorectal cancer.
Rectal cancer most often begins in the cells that line the inside of the rectum. Rectal cancer often first forms as precancerous polyps. Colorectal cancer screening tests can discover rectal cancer before it begins or at its earliest stages — when treatment has the greatest chance for success.
Rectal cancer treatment often involves surgery to remove the cancer. Other treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, may be used as well.
Retinoblastoma is an eye cancer that begins in the retina — the sensitive lining on the inside of your eye. Retinoblastoma most commonly affects young children, but can rarely occur in adults.
Your retina is made up of nerve tissue that senses light as it comes through the front of your eye. The retina sends signals through your optic nerve to your brain, where these signals are interpreted as images.
A rare form of eye cancer, retinoblastoma is the most common form of cancer affecting the eye in children. Retinoblastoma may occur in one or both eyes.
Rhabdomyosarcoma is a rare cancer that forms in the body’s soft tissues, such as muscle and connective tissue. In rhabdomyosarcoma, the cancer cells look similar to immature muscle cells. Rhabdomyosarcoma can occur at any age, but it most often affects children and young adults.
Rhabdomyosarcoma most commonly forms in the:
- Head and neck
Where rhabdomyosarcoma begins and the characteristics of the cells involved in the cancer helps determine your treatment options. Treatment options for rhabdomyosarcoma include chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy.
Salivary Gland Cancer
You have three pairs of major salivary glands under and behind your jaw — parotid, sublingual and submandibular. Many other tiny salivary glands are in your lips, inside your cheeks, and throughout your mouth and throat.
Salivary gland cancer most commonly occurs in the parotid gland, which is just in front of the ear.
Treatment for salivary gland cancer often involves surgery. Other treatments for salivary gland cancer may include radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
Skin Cancer/Basal Cell Carcinoma/Squamous Cell Carcinoma/Melanoma
Skin cancer — the abnormal growth of skin cells — most often develops on skin exposed to the sun. But this common form of cancer can also occur on areas of your skin not ordinarily exposed to sunlight.
There are three major types of skin cancer — basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.
You can reduce your risk of skin cancer by limiting or avoiding exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Checking your skin for suspicious changes can help detect skin cancer at its earliest stages. Early detection of skin cancer gives you the greatest chance for successful skin cancer treatment.
Small Bowel Cancer/Adenocarcinoma/Sarcoma/Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor/Carcinoid Tumors/Lymphoma
Small bowel cancer is an uncommon type of cancer that occurs in the small intestine. Your small intestine, which is also called the small bowel, is a long tube that carries digested food between your stomach and your large intestine (colon).
Types of small bowel cancer include:
- Sarcoma, including gastrointestinal stromal tumor
- Carcinoid tumors
What treatment options are best for you depend on the type of small bowel cancer you have and its stage.
Spinal Cord Cancer
A spinal tumor is a growth that develops within your spinal canal or within the bones of your spine. It may be cancerous or noncancerous.
Tumors that affect the bones of the spine (vertebrae) are known as vertebral tumors. Tumors that begin within the spinal cord itself are called spinal cord tumors. There are two main types of tumors that may affect the spinal cord:
- Intramedullary tumors begin in the cells within the spinal cord itself, such as astrocytomas or ependymomas.
- Extramedullary tumors develop within the supporting network of cells around the spinal cord.
Although they don’t begin within the spinal cord itself, these types of tumors may affect spinal cord function by causing spinal cord compression and other problems. Examples of extramedullary tumors that can affect the spinal cord include schwannomas, meningiomas and neurofibromas.
Tumors from other parts of the body can spread (metastasize) to the vertebrae, the supporting network around the spinal cord or, in rare cases, the spinal cord itself. Spinal tumors or growths of any kind can lead to pain, neurological problems and sometimes paralysis.
Whether cancerous or not, a spinal tumor can be life-threatening and cause permanent disability. Treatment for a spinal tumor may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or other medications.
Stomach Cancer/Gastric Cancer
Stomach cancer is cancer that occurs in the stomach — the muscular sac located in the upper middle of your abdomen, just below your ribs. Your stomach receives and holds the food you eat and then helps to break down and digest it.
Another term for stomach cancer is gastric cancer. These two terms most often refer to stomach cancer that begins in the mucus-producing cells on the inside lining of the stomach (adenocarcinoma).
Adenocarcinoma is the most common type of stomach cancer.
Stomach cancer is uncommon in the United States, and the number of people diagnosed with the disease each year is declining. Stomach cancer is much more common in other areas of the world.
Throat Cancer/Tonsil Cancer
Throat cancer refers to cancerous tumors that develop in your throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx) or tonsils. Your throat is a muscular tube that begins behind your nose and ends in your neck. Throat cancer most often begins in the flat cells that line the inside of your throat. Your voice box sits just below your throat and is also susceptible to throat cancer. The voice box is made of cartilage and contains the vocal cords that vibrate to make sound when you talk.
Throat cancer can also affect the piece of cartilage (epiglottis) that acts as a lid for your windpipe. Tonsil cancer, another form of throat cancer, affects the tonsils, which are located on the back of the throat.
Testicular cancer occurs in the testicles (testes), which are located inside the scrotum, a loose bag of skin underneath the penis. The testicles produce male sex hormones and sperm for reproduction.
Compared with other types of cancer, testicular cancer is rare. But testicular cancer is the most common cancer in American males between the ages of 15 and 35.
Testicular cancer is highly treatable, even when cancer has spread beyond the testicle. Depending on the type and stage of testicular cancer, you may receive one of several treatments, or a combination. Regular testicular self-examinations can help identify growths early, when the chance for successful treatment of testicular cancer is highest.
Thyroid cancer occurs in the cells of the thyroid — a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck, just below your Adam’s apple. Your thyroid produces hormones that regulate your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and weight.
Although thyroid cancer isn’t common in the United States, rates seem to be increasing. Doctors think this is because new technology is allowing them to find small thyroid cancers that may not have been found in the past.
Most cases of thyroid cancer can be cured with treatment.
Vaginal cancer is a rare cancer that occurs in your vagina — the muscular tube that connects your uterus with your outer genitals. Vaginal cancer most commonly occurs in the cells that line the surface of your vagina, which is sometimes called the birth canal.
While several types of cancer can spread to your vagina from other places in your body, cancer that begins in your vagina (primary vaginal cancer) is rare.
A diagnosis of early-stage vaginal cancer has the best chance for a cure. Vaginal cancer that spreads beyond the vagina is much more difficult to treat.
Vulvar cancer is a type of cancer that occurs on the outer surface area of the female genitalia. The vulva is the area of skin that surrounds the urethra and vagina, including the clitoris and labia. Vulvar cancer commonly forms as a lump or sore on the vulva that often causes itching. Though it can occur at any age, vulvar cancer is most commonly diagnosed in older women.
Vulvar cancer treatment usually involves surgery to remove the cancer and a small amount of surrounding healthy tissue. Sometimes vulvar cancer surgery requires removing the entire vulva. The earlier vulvar cancer is diagnosed, the less likely an extensive surgery is needed for treatment.
Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia/Lymphoplasmacytic Lymphoma
Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia (mak-roe- glob-u- lih-NEE- me-uh) is a rare type of cancer that begins in the white blood cells. If you have Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia, your bone marrow produces too many abnormal white blood cells that crowd out healthy blood cells. The abnormal white blood cells produce a protein that accumulates in the blood, impairs circulation and causes complications.
Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia is considered a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It’s sometimes called lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma.
Wilms’ tumor is a rare kidney cancer that primarily affects children. Also known as nephroblastoma, Wilms’ tumor is the most common cancer of the kidneys in children. Wilms’ tumor most often affects children ages 3 to 4 and becomes much less common after age 5.
Wilms’ tumor most often occurs in just one kidney, though it can sometimes be found in both kidneys at the same time.
Improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of Wilms’ tumor have improved the prognosis for children with this disease. The outlook for most children with Wilms’ tumor is very good.
- Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2016. Web. 10 Jul. 2016.