Special Report

The States With the Most People Dying From Cancer


According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the leading causes of cancer death are generally the same across the country. Lung cancers were the top cause in 45 states, and digestive system cancers (colon, stomach, pancreatic) were the leading cause in the other five. Although the leading causes were often the same, the mortality rates from these cancers varied significantly between states.

The most dramatic difference was in the lung cancer mortality rates in Kentucky and Utah — there were 76.1 age-adjusted lung cancer deaths per 100,000 people in Kentucky, three times the rate of 23.2 per 100,000 in Utah.

Click here to see the states with the highest cancer mortality rates.

Click here to see the states with the lowest cancer mortality rates.

While the mortality rates of other cancers also vary significantly across states, differences in the lung cancer mortality rate had the largest effect on the state’s rankings. The 10 states with the highest cancer mortality rates also had lung cancer death rates higher than the national average. While the 10 lowest states had rates below the national average.

The states with the highest incidence of new diagnoses did not necessarily have the highest cancer mortality rates, suggesting that other health risk factors such as access to care and healthy behaviors have a significant impact on cancer survival. Of the 10 states with the highest rates of cancer mortality,  six had below-average rates of incidence. Arkansas, which had the sixth-highest mortality rate, had the 11th lowest rate of new diagnoses per year.

Unhealthy behaviors contribute substantially to the incidence and mortality rates from cancer. For example, with lung cancer accounting for so large a portion of cancer deaths, smoking was an especially large factor. Nine of the 10 states with the highest cancer mortality rates also had among the 10 largest percentages of adults reporting a history of tobacco use.

Unhealthy behaviors, and the resulting higher mortality rates, are influenced by economic factors as well. Financial stability helps improve access to health care as well as healthier diets and exercise opportunities. The poverty rates in all 10 states with the highest cancer mortality rates were higher than the national poverty rate of 15.8%. While among states with the lowest cancer death rates, the opposite tended to be true.

Click here to see our full methodology.

These are the states where the most people are dying from cancer.

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