Special Report

The Racial Divide in Cancer Deaths in Every State and D.C.

Despite claims that COVID-19 was quickly becoming the leading cause of death in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that at this time this claim is far from being true. Heart disease and cancer, the CDC said, remain the leading causes of death among Americans, respectively. About one of every four deaths in the country is due to cancer.

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the country’s racial divides, hitting black Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities harder than white Americans — in both cases and deaths. These disparities existed long before the pandemic, however, and have been apparent in cancer incidence rate and mortality.

24/7 Tempo identified the racial divide in cancer incidence and mortality after reviewing cancer statistics from the CDC. Both incidence and death data are race-specific.

More than 1.6 million Americans had been diagnosed with cancer and nearly 600,000 died from the disease in 2016, the latest year for which data is available. These figures exclude the more than 1 million cases of skin cancer. Skin cancer cases are often excluded from comparative analyses of cancer data because cancer registries often have different practices for recording skin cancer diagnoses and because some skin cancers are rarely life threatening as they are often detected early.

In the United States, people of color and members of racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely than white U.S. residents to be poor and lack access to effective health care, both of which contribute significantly to cancer disparities, according to the National Cancer Institute. Because poor and medically underserved people are less likely to get cancer screening tests, they are more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage cancer.

Only seven states have a black mortality rate that is lower than the rate of white mortality from cancer, and all of the seven states have relatively small black populations — Hawaii (2.2%), Idaho (0.9%), New Hampshire (1.7%), North Dakota (3.4%), Rhode Island (8.4%),  South Dakota (2.4%), Wyoming (1.3%).

The likelihood of being diagnosed with cancer depends on a range of factors that contribute to large variations in cancer incidence between states — these are the states with the highest and lowest cancer rates.

Click here to see the racial divide in cancer deaths in every state and D.C.
Click here to see our methodology.

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