The 20 States with the Highest Cancer Rates
U.S. cancer rates are rising at alarming rates, but the risk isn’t spread evenly across the states: Here are the 20 states with the worst cancer rates.
The cancer report
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute recently published a comprehensive report on national cancer statistics titled, United States Cancer Statistics: 1999–2014 Incidence and Mortality Web-based Report. The report reveals, among other things, each state’s cancer rate per 100,000 people for the years 2010 through 2014 combined. For comparison, the overall U.S. rate is 452 new cases per 100,000.
An important thing to know about cancer rates: The better a state is at screening for cancer, the more disease it will find; in other words, don’t despair if your state happens to be in the top 20 list. Take a close look at your state’s death rate from cancer (the average in the U.S. is 166 per 100,000): Your state could have a great track record of treating cancer and helping people survive.
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With 521 new cases per 100,000 people, Kentucky has the highest cancer rate in the country. It also has the highest cancer death rate in the country—202. The three most prevalent are breast, prostate, and lung—as is true for most of the states on this list—but the worst culprit is lung cancer, striking at a rate of 95 per 100,000 (the national average is 61). Experts blame lung cancer’s disproportionate prevalence in Kentucky on a combination of smoking, obesity, and lack of screening.
Although Delaware’s cancer rate—504—is second in the country and well above the national average, the state’s cancer death rate is 175, which puts it at 35th overall. Government officials claim the reason cancer deaths are lower than other high incidence states is that more residents are screened in a timely manner and get treatment before their disease becomes deadly.
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With a rate of 494, Pennsylvania comes in at third highest. While breast, prostate, and lung cancers are the most prevalent, thyroid cancer is much more common in Pennsylvania than in other states. Penn State researchers report that the state’s incidence of thyroid cancer is increasing much faster than it is in the rest of the United States, possibly due to the Three Mile Island incident back in 1979. Perhaps because thyroid cancer is more treatable than many other cancers, Pennsylvania’s death rate of 174 is better than Delaware’s, though still worse than the national average.
New Hampshire ranks fourth in the nation for cancer diagnoses at 490. The state’s high rate may be due, in part, to a push for early detection of breast cancer, which also may be why New Hampshire’s cancer death rate is right at the national average of 166.
With a rate of 489, New York ranks fifth in the nation for cancer diagnoses. The fact that the prostate cancer rate of 137 comes in at well over the national average of 115. However, New York is below the national average death rate, coming in at 158; this may be due, in part, to good access to research hospitals.
Ranking slightly better than New York, New Jersey has the sixth highest cancer rate in the country—488—but with a death rate of 161, it’s below the national average. Jersey’s high diagnosis rate may have something to do with the levels of radon: One in six New Jersey homes register some level of contamination. Here’s what you need to know about radon testing.
Louisiana is the seventh highest state for cancer diagnoses, with 487. The state’s death rate of 191, however, is significantly higher than the nation’s average, placing it fourth in the nation for cancer deaths. These unfortunate numbers may have something to do with the numerous industrial plants in what is known as “Cancer Alley” (an area along the Mississippi River, between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, as well as in the River Parishes).
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With an incidence rate of 485, Connecticut ranks eighth in the nation. This may be due to Connecticut’s higher-than-average rate of breast cancer diagnoses—139 new cases per 100,000 people—placing it third in the nation (behind Washington, DC and New Hampshire). However, Connecticut’s cancer death rate of 153 is below the national average and places it among the top ten states for survival—seventh best overall.
District of Columbia
The District of Columbia (Washington, DC) ranks ninth highest in the country for cancer diagnoses, with a rate of 481. Of the top three most prevalent cancers in DC, prostate and breast are far more common than the national average. (Lung cancer is diagnosed less frequently than the national average.) The cancer death rate for DC is 179, making it the twelfth worst in the nation.
At 480, Rhode Island ranks tenth worst in the nation for new cases of cancer. The state also comes in below the national death rate—170. Lung cancer diagnoses are significantly higher than the national average in Rhode Island; given that lung cancer has a poor prognosis, it could explain the higher-than-average death rate.
Somewhat surprisingly, Maine comes in at 480 (technically, 479.5)—eleventh highest in cancer diagnoses in the nation. With 178 death rate, it ranks 13th worst in cancer deaths. Although breast cancer is among the top three most common diagnoses, prostate and lung cancers are well above the national average. Health experts believe the rural nature of the state means many residents lack easy access to state-of-the-art cancer facilities.
At 476, West Virginia comes in twelfth worst in the nation for diagnoses. With smoking rates well above the national average, West Virginia has a much higher rate for lung cancer. It also ranks third in the nation for highest cancer death rates—195.
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West Virginia and Iowa run neck and neck, but Iowa edges ahead at 476 (actually, 475.9), making it 13th in the nation for cancer diagnoses. With 169 deaths per 100,000, Iowa is ranked 28th lowest in the nation for cancer deaths.
Number 14 in the nation for cancer diagnoses, Mississippi has a rate of 471. Unfortunately, the state’s cancer death rate of 197 puts Mississippi second worst in the nation, ahead of only Kentucky. The prostate and lung cancer rates in Mississippi are both significantly higher than the national averages, with breast cancer a distant third. Madison County, Mississippi has one of the highest county-wide cancer mortality rates in the nation.
This state’s diagnosis rate of 470 puts it 15th worst in the nation. More bad news for Illinois residents: Nine of the top ten cancers in the state are diagnosed at a higher rate than the national average (melanoma being the lone exception). Illinois ranks 34th worst in the nation in terms of cancer deaths, at 174. Cancer experts are most concerned about the statistics from the southern parts of the state, which could potentially benefit from community education and screening programs for colon, lung, breast, and prostate cancers.
The Commonwealth ranks 16th in the nation in terms of cancer diagnoses at 470 (technically, 469.8). Breast cancer is diagnosed most often, and at a rate higher than the national average; however, the state’s success in treating and managing breast cancer may be why the state’s cancer death rate is below the national average: 163, which is 19th best.
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Wisconsin ranks 17th worst for cancer diagnoses, coming in just below Massachusetts with 469. Wisconsin’s cancer death rate is just slightly above average in the nation (168), placing it smack in the middle of the nation’s rankings at 25th.
Kansas comes in at 18th in the nation with a diagnosis rate of 468. This middle-of-the-country state also comes in the middle for cancer death rates (167.5), and its top 10 most common cancer diagnoses all hover around the national average, as well.
Minnesota ranks 19th in the nation for cancer diagnoses (466), which places it above the national average. But Minnesota’s cancer death rate is well below average at 158, making it 13th best in the nation. The state’s lung cancer diagnosis rate is below the national average, which may account for Minnesota’s higher-than-average survival rate (which is continuing to rise).
Rounding out our list, the tobacco state of North Carolina ranks slightly better than Minnesota in cancer diagnoses at 465, but its cancer death rate of 172 is below average, placing it 32nd worst. The prevalence of lung cancer (70 diagnoses out of 100,000 cases versus the national average of 61.2) may account for the higher-than-average cancer mortality rate in North Carolina; Southern states have a higher-than-average cancer mortality rate, in general.