States With the Highest Cancer Rates

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Detailed Findings and Methodology

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in every state except for Louisiana and Mississippi, where prostate cancer is more frequently diagnosed. But breast and prostate cancer, while experienced by relatively more people, are not the deadliest forms of the disease.

Of all known cancer types, lung-related cancers are the top killers in nearly every state. Of the 25 states with higher cancer mortality rates, all but two have adult smoking rates that exceed the national rate of approximately 17%. In the three states with the highest mortality rates from any cancer — Kentucky, West Virginia, and Mississippi — more than 1 in every 5 adults smokes.

Utah, the state with the nation’s lowest smoking rate and the lowest lung cancer death rate, is the only exception. Adjusted for age, breast cancer is the top killer in the state. In absolute terms, however, lung cancer still kills the most people of all the cancers in Utah.

There is no clear pattern between income levels in a state and cancer diagnosis rates. For example, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico — three states with relatively low cancer incidence rates — are also some of the nation’s poorest states. Meanwhile, relatively high income states like Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey report among the top 10 cancer incidence rates.

Mortality rates, on the other hand, do appear related to financial status. The median annual household income does not exceed the national level of $55,775 in any of the 10 states with the highest cancer mortality rates. With few exceptions, the opposite is the case in states with lower cancer mortality rate.

To identify the incidence of cancer in every state, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the age-adjusted cancer incidence rate in every state from data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate represents the number of new events during a given time frame (2014) in a given geographic area (state) per 100,000 people. The data is from the report, “United States Cancer Statistics: 1999-2014 Incidence and Mortality Web-based Report,” produced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Cancer Institute, published 2017. The percentage of adults who currently smoke in each state was also obtained from the CDC.