Immune to Cancer: The CRI Blog



30581 cancer types

Exploring the Different Types of Cancer and Treatment Options

Cancer is a formidable adversary, but our understanding of this disease has come a long way. Cancer comprises over 200 disease types characterized by uncontrolled cell division, each with its unique traits. Despite these distinctions, they share common underlying processes at the core of their development.

Over the last decade, cancer research has undergone a profound transformation. This evolution owes much to the advent and adoption of molecular biology techniques, which have empowered researchers to delve into the intricacies of individual cells in manners inconceivable a century ago. 

Today, our comprehension of cancer extends to the molecular and genetic levels. This expanding knowledge is opening doors to innovative approaches for preventing, delaying, and even rectifying the fundamental alterations that drive cancer.

Whether you’re seeking information on a specific type of cancer or want to expand your knowledge, we’re here to guide you through the labyrinth of cancer types, exploring their diversity and the impact that immunotherapy research has made on cancer patients worldwide. 

The Diverse Spectrum of Cancer Types

Cancer is a complex and multifaceted disease, with hundreds of different types identified to date. Some, like breast cancer and lung cancer, are named based on the specific part of the body where they begin, while others, like glioblastoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are classified according to the type of cell they originate from.

Each type of cancer presents a unique set of challenges. Factors like the location of the tumor, the stage at which it’s diagnosed, and the genetic makeup of the cancer cells all play a crucial role in determining the most effective treatment plan.

Understanding these nuances is essential for both patients and scientists. It’s the key to developing targeted therapies to combat specific cancer types more effectively.

How many types of cancer are there?

There are over 200 distinct types of cancer, each with varying subcategories and unique characteristics. As cancer research progresses, we continue to uncover new insights, expanding our knowledge of this complex disease. While these cancer types are well-documented, ongoing research may reveal additional variations and subtypes as we strive to understand and combat cancer comprehensively.

What are the most common types of cancer?

Breast, lung, bladder, prostate, and colorectal cancers collectively make up nearly half of all new cancer diagnoses in the United States. 

Lung Cancer 

Lung cancer affects approximately 2.1 million people and claims 1.7 million lives annually, ranking as the deadliest cancer worldwide. In the United States alone, 240,000 new cases and 130,000 deaths are estimated in 2023, surpassing the combined mortality of breast, prostate, and colon cancers.

Lung cancer is classified into two major types:

  • Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) – 10-15% of cases.
  • Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) – 85-90% of cases, with subtypes:
  • Adenocarcinoma (40%)
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (25-30%)
  • Large cell carcinoma (10-15%)

Unfortunately, most lung cancer diagnoses occur at advanced stages (3b/4 or beyond), limiting the effectiveness of traditional treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Advanced-stage patients need innovative treatments like immunotherapy, which has shown promise in clinical trials for extending survival rates.

In 2015, the first immunotherapy treatment received FDA approval for specific lung cancer subsets. Fast forward to today, where multiple immunotherapy options have earned FDA approval, even as first-line therapies, shifting the landscape of lung cancer treatment.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer, affecting approximately 300,590 individuals in 2023, ranks among the most prevalent cancers in the United States. Shockingly, about 1 in 8 women and 1 in 1,000 men may confront invasive breast cancer at some point in their lives.

In the past, breast cancer posed unique challenges for immunotherapy due to its ‘cold’ immune profile—a term used to describe tumors that were less responsive to these treatments. However, groundbreaking research has unveiled a promising breakthrough.

These studies reveal that combining radiation therapy with two distinct immunotherapies—one designed to boost T cells and another aimed at enhancing dendritic cells—can effectively manage tumors in preclinical models of triple-negative breast cancer.

This particular type of breast cancer has long been resistant to immunotherapy alone, warranting the need for innovative treatments. This shift represents a remarkable advancement, as it taps into the body’s immune system to combat ‘cold’ tumors like never before, opening new avenues for enhancing breast cancer patient outcomes.

Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer ranks as the world’s second most prevalent cancer among men, affecting approximately 1.3 million individuals and resulting in over 360,000 annual deaths, accounting for 4% of global cancer-related fatalities. In the United States, 2023 is expected to see around 290,000 new cases and over 35,000 deaths, impacting about 1 in 7 men during their lifetimes.

Early-stage prostate cancer exhibits a high degree of treatability, boasting nearly 100% five-year survival rates. This cancer type is typically characterized by its slow growth, often remaining confined within the prostate gland and necessitating minimal or no intervention. In certain instances, the progression of prostate cancer to other parts of the body, particularly the bones (metastasis), may take as long as eight years to manifest. However, for advanced-stage disease, the five-year survival rate diminishes to less than 30%, emphasizing the pressing need for more effective treatment options.

Immunotherapy represents a promising frontier in prostate cancer treatment, featuring two FDA-approved options and ongoing research, especially for metastatic cases. Notably, prostate cancer primarily affects men, but exceptionally rare cases have been reported in women due to specific genetic conditions.

Colorectal Cancer

In the United States, colorectal cancer ranks as the third most common form of cancer and the second most lethal. Globally, there are approximately 1.8 million cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed each year, resulting in over 900,000 deaths. In 2023, it is projected that there will be around 150,000 new cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed, leading to 53,000 colorectal cancer-related deaths in the United States alone.

Colorectal cancer, encompassing both colon and rectal cancer, initiates in the lining of the colon or rectum and can potentially metastasize to other organs and lymph nodes. The majority of colorectal cancers, over 95%, are adenocarcinomas, originating in the mucus-producing glands of the colon or rectum. Lynch syndrome, an inheritable genetic disorder, has been increasingly recognized for its role in the development of colorectal cancer, contributing to approximately 5,000 new cases in the United States annually.

Although both incidence and mortality rates have shown a decline in the past two decades, primarily due to effective screening tests that identify pre- and early-stage disease, the underutilization of these tests means that only 40% of colorectal cancers are detected at an early stage when the survival rate is exceptionally high, at 90%. Therefore, there is an urgent need for new treatments for colorectal cancer.


Melanoma ranks as the fifth most common cancer among both men and women in the United States. Typically, melanoma is diagnosed around the age of 65, although before the age of 50, it affects more women than men. After turning 50, men experience higher rates of diagnosis.

In 2023, an estimated 97,610 adults in the United States will be diagnosed with invasive melanoma of the skin, with a nearly equal distribution between men (58,120 cases) and women (39,490 cases). Globally, around 324,635 people were diagnosed with melanoma in 2020.

While melanoma predominantly develops in older individuals, it is not limited to this age group. Younger people, including those under 30 years old, can also develop melanoma. In fact, it is one of the most frequently diagnosed cancers among young adults, especially in women. In 2020, an estimated 2,400 cases of melanoma were diagnosed in individuals aged 15 to 29.

While melanoma represents just 1% of all diagnosed skin cancers in the United States, it is responsible for the majority of skin cancer-related deaths. 

Melanoma treatment varies based on the disease’s stage at detection. Early-stage melanoma may be surgically removed, but advanced stages could require more complex treatments. Immunotherapy offers several FDA-approved options for melanoma. These include a range of targeted antibodies and immunomodulators. Each targets specific pathways or proteins to aid in treating advanced melanoma, with some approved for specific patient subsets, including post-surgical and tumor-agnostic cases.

Bladder Cancer

Bladder cancer, the sixth most common cancer in the U.S. and ninth worldwide, typically starts in the bladder’s inner lining cells. As it progresses, it may invade nearby tissues or metastasize to distant organs like the lungs or liver.

In 2023, an estimated 82,000 new cases and around 17,000 deaths are anticipated in the U.S. Bladder cancer’s recurrence risk necessitates long-term patient surveillance. Better treatments, such as novel immunotherapies, might reduce recurrence rates and improve the survival of patients with bladder cancer.

The likelihood of developing bladder cancer varies between genders. Men face a higher risk, with approximately a 1 in 28 chance of developing this cancer during their lifetime, whereas women have a lower risk, around 1 in 91. Even though the disease mainly affects men, the underlying reasons for this gender disparity remain unclear. These statistics can be influenced by specific risk factors like smoking or weight, while others, such as age and family history, are beyond your control.

What are the deadliest cancers?

Lung cancer holds the distinction of being the primary cause of cancer-related fatalities in the United States, contributing to approximately 20% of all cancer deaths. Annually, the number of lives claimed by lung cancer surpasses the combined total of deaths from colon, breast, and prostate cancers.

  • Deadliest Cancers in Men: The five most dangerous cancers in men are estimated to result in nearly 180,000 fatalities in the U.S. annually. Leading this grim tally is lung cancer, which accounts for approximately 67,160 male deaths. Prostate cancer follows, contributing to around 35,000 deaths. Colon and rectum cancers also pose a significant threat, with an estimated 28,000 male lives lost each year. Pancreatic cancer is not far behind, causing about 26,500 fatalities, while liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancer is responsible for roughly 19,000 male deaths annually. Together, these cancers represent some of the most significant health challenges faced by men today.
  • Deadliest Cancers for Women: In women, the five deadliest cancers are projected to claim close to 160,500 lives annually. Lung and bronchus cancer tops the list, with an expected toll of about 60,000 female deaths. Breast cancer, a prevalent concern among women, accounts for approximately 43,00 fatalities. Colon and rectum cancers also have a significant impact, leading to around 24,000 deaths. Pancreatic cancer closely follows, with an estimated 24,000 female lives lost each year. Ovarian cancer, another major health concern, is responsible for roughly 13,300 female deaths. These statistics underscore the critical importance of awareness, research, and treatment advancements in these cancer types for women.

Understanding Rare Cancers

Rare cancers are those that affect fewer than 40,000 people annually in the United States. Collectively accounting for just over a quarter of all cancer cases, rare cancers affect a small number of individuals. 

Most common rare cancers: 

  • Kidney Cancer
  • Brain Cancer
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Sarcoma

The journey towards accurately diagnosing rare cancers is often complex and challenging. The relative rarity of these cancers frequently results in delayed recognition by healthcare providers. This not only prolongs the diagnostic process but also impacts the effectiveness of timely treatment. Key factors contributing to this scenario include:

  • Accelerating Diagnosis Through Specialized Networks: To combat this, the medical community is rallying around the need for more specialized diagnostic networks. These networks aim to connect primary care doctors with rare cancer specialists, utilizing telemedicine and cross-institution collaborations. By increasing the accessibility of expert opinions and specialized testing, the goal is to shorten the path to accurate diagnosis, allowing for quicker intervention.
  • Innovative Treatments Following Early Detection: Post-diagnosis, the promise of immunotherapy stands as a beacon of hope. Groundbreaking immune-based therapies, such as immune checkpoint inhibitors, macrophage therapy, CAR T cell therapy, and neoantigen-based treatments, are emerging as game-changers. However, the true potential of these therapies is best realized when rare cancers are identified early, underscoring the importance of expedited diagnosis.
  • Expanding Expertise and Education: To address the scarcity of knowledgeable medical professionals in rare cancer treatment, there’s a push to broaden the education and training of oncologists. This includes specialized fellowships, continuing medical education programs focused on rare cancers and the formation of expert consortia. By doing so, we can foster a generation of healthcare professionals who are not only aware of but also skilled in the nuances of rare cancer care.
  • A Beacon of Hope Through Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy trials represent a beacon of hope for patients caught at the crossroads of differing medical opinions. By participating in these trials, patients gain access to cutting-edge treatments that may not yet have widespread consensus but show immense potential. This avenue allows patients to take an active role in exploring innovative clinical trials and therapeutic options.

Immunotherapy research and trials are not only pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in treating rare cancers but also addressing some of the unique challenges patients, doctors, and scientists face. 

The Critical Role of Immunotherapy Research

The landscape of cancer treatment is undergoing a revolution, and at the heart of this transformation is immunotherapy. This innovative approach harnesses the body’s immune system to fight cancer, offering hope for durable responses and even potential cures in cases where traditional treatments may fail. Unlike conventional therapies that indiscriminately attack rapidly dividing cells, immunotherapy targets the cancer more precisely, often resulting in fewer side effects and improved quality of life.

Research in this field is vital for several reasons. It propels the development of new treatments that can be tailored to individual patients, increasing the specificity and effectiveness of cancer care. Furthermore, immunotherapy research expands our understanding of the immune system’s role in cancer development and how it can be reprogrammed or boosted to recognize and combat cancer cells.

The Cancer Research Institute (CRI) leads the way in groundbreaking scientific discoveries, funding every stage of discovery research: basic, transitional, and clinical. This comprehensive approach has yielded major immunotherapy breakthroughs, including checkpoint inhibitors and revolutionizing outcomes for various cancer types. These accomplishments mark significant milestones in cancer treatment and provide a solid foundation for the advancement of novel immunotherapeutic strategies.

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