What are the most common types of cancer in the UK?

According to the World Health Organization, cancer death accounts for roughly 10 million fatalities in 2020. Cancer is a disease where abnormal cells replicate in one place of the body. As a result, cancerous cells can penetrate and kill healthy tissue, including organs. During stage IV cancer, cancer spreads from one body region to another, known as metastasis. Let's explore the most common types of cancer in the UK, what can cause cancer and cancer treatment options.

 - 10 Min Read
Last updated and fact checked:
What are the most common types of cancer in the UK?
  • Cancer statistics show that the overall incidence of cancer in England was 593.2 per 100,000 individuals, ranging from 556.7 in London to 630.3 in the North East.
  • In England and Wales, the survival rates are half (50%) of persons diagnosed with cancer live for ten years or longer (2010-11).
  • In the United Kingdom, cancer survival rates have more than doubled in the previous 40 years.

What are the most common types of cancer in the UK?: FAQs

  • What is cancer prevalence?

    Cancer prevalence (epidemiology) is described as the number of persons who have been diagnosed with cancer and are still alive. It encompasses persons who have previously been diagnosed with cancer and those who have just been diagnosed.

  • What is the cancer prevalence in the United Kingdom?

    Cancer incidence in England was 593.2 per 100,000 people on average, although this varied throughout the nation, ranging from 556.7 per 100,000 people in London to 630.3 per 100,000 people in the North East.

  • What is cancer prevention?

    Cancer prevention is any measure performed to reduce the likelihood of developing cancer. This may involve avoiding exposure to known cancer-causing chemicals, enhancing your quality of life by taking cancer-prevention medications or vaccines and leading a healthy lifestyle.

  • How has coronavirus affected cancer treatment in the UK?

    Due to the coronavirus outbreak, clinical trials at some facilities may have ceased enrolling new patients due to high Covid-19 infections. However, these facilities continue caring for those patients already enrolled in clinical trials.

    If you or a loved one has been in contact with the coronavirus, contact your local healthcare professional to learn how cancer prevention, cancer screening, and cancer treatment is adapted during Covid-19.

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Did you know that Cancer Research UK says that one in every two of us will develop cancer at some point? Therefore, maintaining a healthy immune system and going for checkups can help prevent the spread of cancer via early detection. 

There are over 200 distinct forms of cancer, including:

  • Skin cancer (melanoma)
  • Cervical cancer due to human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Leukaemia, 
  • Liver cancer (due to chronic hepatitis)
  • Carcinoma 
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer 
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Sarcoma 
  • Hodgkin's lymphoma (cancer in lymph nodes) 
  • Childhood cancer, including leukaemia’s, brain tumours, lymphomas, and solid tumours such as neuroblastoma

Most symptoms of cancer vary in the type of cancer diagnosis. Treatment options will also depend on the different types of cancer. Cancer can be treated with chemotherapy, radiology, surgery, and immunotherapy in most cases. 

Let's take a look at the four most frequent kinds of cancer in the United Kingdom:

1. Breast cancer

Breast cancer may present with various symptoms, the most obvious of which is generally a lump or region of enlarged breast tissue.

Most breast lumps are not malignant, but it is always good to get them examined by a specialist.

You should also visit a doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • A change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
  • Discharge from either nipple, which may be tinged with blood
  • A lump or swelling in either armpit 
  • Dimpling on the skin of your breasts
  • A rash around or on your nipple
  • A change in your nipple's appearance, such as getting buried into your breast

Breast cancer causes

The precise causes of breast cancer remain unknown. The following variables are known to raise the chance of breast cancer:

  • Age – the risk rises with age family history of breast cancer
  • A prior breast cancer diagnosis
  • Being tall, overweight, or obese, having a prior non-cancerous (benign) breast lump
  • Alcohol consumption

Breast cancer diagnosis

Following an examination of your breasts, your doctor may recommend you to a specialized breast cancer clinic for further testing. 

Breast screening (mammography) or obtaining a tiny sample of breast tissue to be inspected under a microscope may be included in a biopsy.

Jo Taylor from ABC Diagnosis told us: “Unfortunately many breast cancer awareness campaigns fail as they focus on the message that is about finding a lump. There are many women who are diagnosed with eg Lobular breast cancer where you do not find a lump it’s a thickening or Inflammatory breast cancer is this is a rash on the breast.

"Many women are failed by GPs and sent away especially if they are young that they are too young to develop breast cancer. Education is key. There are no awareness campaigns about metastatic or secondary breast cancer and around 8% of women are diagnosed with Stage 4 disease straight away and never find a lump.

"Again, awareness is key and this is why I have created infographics which are signposted by NHS England and have been translated into 11 languages which will be enhancing global awareness of this disease.

"Anyone who has had primary breast cancer needs to be aware of the infographics so that they understand the risk of recurrence”

Breast cancer treatment

Breast cancer can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, or radiotherapy.

Surgery is often the initial kind of treatment, followed by chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and, in certain situations, hormone or targeted therapies.

Your breast cancer type will determine the kind of surgery and subsequent therapy you get. 

Living with breast cancer 

Cancer patients' reactions to the diagnosis and cancer care differ. Support may take the following forms:

  • Relatives and friends that can provide a solid support system
  • Talking to other patients
  • Educating yourself about your illness
  • Avoiding attempting to accomplish too much or overexerting yourself
  • Making time for oneself

2. Lung cancer

Lung cancer is among the most common and deadliest cancers in the UK. Around 47,000 individuals in the UK alone are diagnosed with lung cancer every year. 

Lung cancer primarily affects the elderly. It is uncommon in persons under the age of 40. However, more than four out of every ten persons diagnosed with lung cancer are 75 or older in the UK.

There are usually no indications or symptoms of lung cancer in its early stages, although many patients with lung cancer later develop symptoms such as:

  • A chronic cough
  • Coughing up blood 
  • Chronic shortness of breath
  • Unexplained fatigue and weight loss
  • Discomfort or soreness while inhaling or coughing

Lung cancer causes

Tobacco usage is by far the most significant cause of lung cancer. Smoking is responsible for over 80% of lung cancer fatalities, and second-hand smoke exposure is responsible for many more.

Although smoking is the most significant risk factor for lung cancer, it often interacts with other variables. For example, people who smoke and are exposed to other known risk factors such as radon and asbestos are significantly higher - genetics also play a significant role.

Lung cancer treatment

Treatment is determined by the kind of mutation in the tumour, the extent of its dissemination, and your overall health.

If the problem is detected early and the malignant cells are contained to a small region, surgery to remove the afflicted lung area may be advised. If surgery is not an option due to your overall health, radiation to remove malignant cells may be suggested.

Chemotherapy is frequently used when cancer has gone too far for surgery or radiation to be helpful.

A class of medications called targeted treatments is also available. They aim for a particular alteration in or around the cancer cells that aid in their growth. Although targeted medicines cannot cure lung cancer, they may help halt its spread.

Living with lung cancer

Lung cancer doesn't typically present symptoms until it has progressed beyond the lungs or into other body regions. One in every three persons with lung cancer lives for at least a year after being diagnosed, and one in every twenty lives for at least ten years.

Survival chances, however, vary greatly depending on how far cancer has spread to the other parts of the body. Therefore, an early diagnosis may make a significant impact.

3. Prostate cancer

The prostate is a tiny gland located in the pelvis, a component of the male reproductive system. It is about the size of a walnut and sits between the penis and the bladder, encircling the urethra.

The prostate's primary purpose is to generate a thick white fluid known as sperm.

Prostate cancer symptoms

Symptoms of prostate cancer usually do not appear until the prostate has grown large enough to obstruct the tube that takes urine from the bladder out of the penis (urethra). 

When this occurs, you may:

  • Need to urinate more frequently
  • Feel that your bladder has not been completely emptied

These symptoms should not be disregarded, but they may not necessarily indicate that you have prostate cancer. 

Prostate cancer causes

The causes of prostate cancer are mainly unknown. However, several factors might enhance your chances of developing prostate tumours.

As you become older, your risk of cancer might increase. Most prostate cancer cases occur in men over 50.

Men that have a father or grandfather who had prostate cancer have a slightly increased risk of getting it themselves. Additionally, obesity may potentially raise the risk of prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer treatment

If the cancer is in its early stages and is not producing symptoms, your doctor may advise "watchful waiting" or "active surveillance." Some instances of prostate cancer may be cured if caught early enough.

Among the available treatments are:

  • Surgically removing the prostate – either alone or in conjunction with hormone treatment
  • Cryotherapy

If cancer has spread to other body regions and cannot be treated, therapy focuses on extending life and alleviating symptoms.

All treatment methods entail the potential of severe side effects, such as erectile dysfunction and urinary symptoms, such as the need to use the restroom more often or urgently.

As a result, you may decide to postpone treatment until there is a chance that cancer may spread.

Newer therapies, such as high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) and cryotherapy are attempting to lessen these adverse effects. Some hospitals may provide them instead of surgery, radiation, or hormone treatment. However, the long-term efficacy of this therapy is unknown.

Living with prostate cancer

Because prostate cancer grows slowly, you may go for decades without experiencing symptoms or requiring treatment.

Nonetheless, it might have an impact on your life. Aside from the potential adverse effects of therapy, a prostate cancer diagnosis might undoubtedly make you feel nervous or unhappy.

It might help to discuss your situation with your family, friends, a doctor, and other men who have prostate cancer.

4. Bowel cancer

Bowel cancer is a catch-all phrase for cancer that starts in the large intestine. Bowel cancer is sometimes known as colorectal (colon or rectum) cancer.

Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers in the UK. The majority of those diagnosed with it are above the age of 60.

Bowel cancer symptoms

The following are the three most common symptoms of bowel cancer according to oncology research from the Markey Cancer Center:

  • Persistent blood in your stool
  • Runnier than usual stools
  • Lower abdominal (tummy) pain, bloating, or discomfort 

These symptoms should be treated more carefully as you become older, especially if they continue after basic therapies. The doctor may decide to:

  • Make sure there are no bumps on your stomach or bottom
  • Arrange for a simple blood test to check for iron-deficiency anaemia – this may reveal if there is any bleeding from your intestines that you are unaware of, or lead to your GP planning for you to undergo a basic test in hospital to ensure that there is no major cause of your symptoms

Bowel cancer causes

The specific aetiology of bowel cancer is unknown, although various factors might raise your risk, including:

  • Diet 
  • Inactivity 
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Smoking 

Bowel cancer treatment

Depending on where the cancer is in your gut and how far it has progressed, colon cancer may be treated with a mix of various treatments:

  • Surgery - the malignant segment of the colon is removed; it is the most successful method of treating bowel cancer and, in many instances, is all that is required.
  • Chemotherapy 
  • Radiotherapy
  • Immunotherapy

The possibility of a complete cure, like with most cancers, is dictated by how far the cancer has advanced by the time it is detected. If the cancer is just in the colon, surgery may entirely remove it.

According to the National Cancer Institute, keyhole or robotic surgery is becoming increasingly popular, allowing for less discomfort and a faster recovery time.

Living with bowel cancer

Depending on the stage of your cancer and the therapy you are receiving, bowel cancer might have various effects on your everyday life.

Here are a few tips to help you:

  • Confide in your friends and family — they may be a great source of support.
  • Interact with other bowel cancer patients
  • Educate yourself about your health
  • Do not attempt to accomplish too much or overexert yourself
  • Make time for yourself
The content on is for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construedas professional medical advice or guidance. Should you need professional medical advice or guidance, you should consult with such a professional in their relevant field. Likewise, you should always seek professional medical advice before starting a diet, exercise regime or course of medication, or introducing or eliminating specific elements from your lifestyle. We strive to write accurate, genuine and helpful content, and all views and opinions expressed within this article are specifically the views of the author.
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