Cancer is the leading cause of death

Cancer is the leading cause of death in men in France, the second in women. What is cancer? How to detect it? What signs should alert? What are the current treatments? What prognosis by type of cancer? Zoom in on each type of cancer and its evolution.

Cancer is the leading cause of death in men in France, the second in women. According to Public Health France, the most frequent cancers are prostate cancer in men (a quarter of male cancers in 2018), breast and lung cancers in women (respectively a third and 9% of female cancers ). In men, the incidence increased little between 1990 and 2018 while it has steadily increased in women.


Cancer is the name given to any type of rapidly growing malignant tumor that spreads to the rest of the body. These tumors are caused by the uncontrolled multiplication and mutation of cells in the body leading to uncontrolled development. When cancer cells reach other parts of the body, it is called “metastasis”. There are over 200 different types of cancer with widely varying treatments and prognosis.

Cancer figures

Cancer is the leading cause of death in men in France, the second in women. According to the National Cancer Institute:

  • 382,000 new cases of cancer were identified in 2018 (177,400 cases in women, 204,600 in men)
  • 157,400 deaths were estimated in 2018 (67,800 in women, 89,600 in men).
  • The cancer death rate continues to decline.
  • The median age of cancer deaths in women is 77 years.
  • The median age of cancer deaths in humans is 73 years.
  • In women, breast cancer is always the deadliest, closely followed by lung cancer and colorectal cancer.
  • In humans, lung cancer is the most fatal, ahead of colorectal and prostate cancers.

What are the most common cancers?

  • prostate cancer, with nearly 50,000 new cases each year in France. It is the most common in men but it is also one of the best cared for.
  • breast cancer is most common in women, followed by colorectal and lung cancer.
  • colorectal cancer with 44,000 new cases in 2017
  •  lung cancer with 49,000 new cases in 2017, it is also the deadliest.

What are the causes of cancer?

While some cancers have specific causes, such as skin cancer caused by sun exposure or lung cancer from smoking, more often than not, the cause of cancer is unknown. On the other hand, a great deal of scientific research has made it possible to highlight the main risk factors for cancer.

The three main risk factors are:

tobacco, which is not only responsible for lung cancer since it considerably increases the risk of cancer of the throat, stomach, bladder, colon or even pancreas. It is responsible for 8% of cancer cases.

unhealthy food (too much red meat, ultra-processed foods, cold meats, sugars, salt and not enough fruits and vegetables) is responsible for around 30% of cancers in the West.

alcohol which is responsible for 20% of cancers (including 8000 cases of breast cancer in women). The first concerned are cancers of the upper aerodigestive tract (throat, esophagus) as well as liver cancer, breast cancer or colorectal cancer.

Among the other risk factors: overweight and obesity (risk factors for 12 cancer sites), physical inactivity, exposure to the sun, infections, pollution or exposure to radioactive substances. According to the Inca, 41% of new cases of cancer could be prevented.

In the event of a diagnosis of cancer, the treatment is adapted according to the type of cancer, its stage of development, the age of the person and his general condition. 

The prognosis of the disease depends in particular on the type of cancer. Among cancers with a degraded prognosis: lung cancers (10-year survival does not exceed 10%), cancers of the lip, mouth and pharynx which increase particularly in women due to the increase in smoking and alcohol consumption (the net 5-year survival is 51% for women and 34% for men. The 10-year net survival for these cancers is less than 25% for men; pancreas: 5-year net survival is less than 10%, ovarian cancers: 10-year net survival is around 30% and central nervous system cancers: 5-year net survival is 22 % and barely 16% at 10 years. 

Cure is the complete and definitive disappearance of the disease. It means that the risk of death of the patient is the same as that of the population of the same sex and of the same age. finds differences in terms of cure, depending on the type of cancer and the country.