Special Report

States With the Highest Cancer Rates

Detailed Findings

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

Of all known cancer types, lung-related cancers are the top killers in every state except for Utah, which has the nation’s lowest smoking rate. Of the 25 states with higher cancer mortality rates, all but three 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 one in every five adults smokes.

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 $57,617 in any of the 10 states with the highest cancer mortality rates. With few exceptions, income is higher in states with lower cancer mortality rate.

The different likelihoods of being screened, diagnosed, treated effectively, and surviving cancer mean the states with the highest diagnosis rates do not necessarily have the highest mortality rates. The difference, Feuer explained, is related to “a complicated array of insurance and access to care issues.”


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 cases during a given time frame (2015) in a given geographic area (state) per 100,000 people.

The data is from the report, “United States Cancer Statistics: 2000-2015 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 in 2017. The percentage of adults who currently smoke in each state was obtained from The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program, produced by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. Total Population, median household income, and educational attainment are derived from the Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey.

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