Cancer Landscape to Shift by 2040, New Report Says

Cases of pancreatic and liver cancers are expected to rise by 2040, and there will be more melanoma cases, according to new estimates of future US cancer incidence and death.

A new study out Wednesday says the makeup of cancer will change by 2040, with increasing deaths from pancreatic and liver cancers and more melanoma cases but fewer breast cancer deaths and decreases in prostate cancer cases.

The authors said they conducted the study in order to get a better sense of the future cancer landscape so as to inform research funding, health care planning, and efforts to shape health policy.

Researchers calculated the estimates by combining the most recent sex, age, race and origin, and cancer-specific delay-adjusted incidence rates from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program with existing US Census Bureau demographic projections by sex and race for 2016 to 2040, based on 2010 Census data, and average annual percentage changes (AAPC) in incidence and death rates.

SEER is a coordinated registry of patients with cancer in the United States, covers about 35% of the population, and is representative of national demographics. The most recent 3-year data available for incidence rates in SEER are from 2014 to 2016. Statistical analyses were performed from July 2020 to February 2021.

Currently, cancer is the leading cause of death in individuals aged 45 to 64 years; last year, there were an estimated 1.8 million diagnoses and more than 600,000 deaths.

Overall, by 2040 the makeup of cancer is estimated to be:

  • Breast (364,000 cases)
  • Melanoma (219,000 cases)
  • Lung (208,000 cases)
  • Colorectal (147,000 cases)

Prostate cancer, currently the most common cancer, will rank as the fourteenth most common cancer.

Cause of death by cancer in 2040 is estimated to be:

  • Lung cancer (63,000 deaths)
  • Pancreatic cancer (46,000 deaths)
  • Liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancer (41,000 deaths)
  • Colorectal cancer (34,000 deaths)
  • Breast cancer (30,000 deaths)

Lung cancer is currently the leading cause of cancer deaths, and breast cancer is currently the third.

Change in Cancer Deaths by Sex

In men, the top 4 causes of death by cancer in 2020 were lung, prostate, colorectal, and pancreas. By 2040, that will shift to lung (29,000 deaths), prostate (26,000 deaths), liver and intrahepatic bile duct (24,000 deaths), and pancreas (22,000 deaths).

In women, the causes of cancer deaths will largely stay the same, from lung, breast, colorectal, and pancreas currently to colon cancer being replaced by uterine cancer in 2040 (18,000 deaths).

The authors said they had previously estimated that the most common cancers overall by 2030 would be breast, prostate, lung, thyroid, and melanoma. The new estimates reflect the new AAPC data, which show an increase in melanoma and a decrease in prostate and thyroid cancers.

They noted that a decline in prostate cancer incidence coincided with new recommendations steering men away from routine screening.


Rahib L, Wehner MR, Matrisian LM, Nead KT. Estimated projection of US cancer incidence and death to 2040. JAMA Netw Open. Published online April 7, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.4708

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