Special Report

States Where Cancer Kills the Most People

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic claimed the lives of over 340,000 in the U.S. in 2020, Americans were still much more likely to die from cancer as they were the virus. Before the pandemic, about one in every four deaths was due to cancer.

24/7 Tempo reviewed the population-adjusted cancer mortality rate in every state using data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify the states where the largest share of the population dies from cancer.

More than 1.7 million Americans were diagnosed with cancer in 2017, the latest year for which data on cancer incidence rate is available. Nearly 600,000 died from the disease that year. In 2019, almost 600,000 people died from cancer.

Lung cancer is the deadliest, accounting for about one-fourth of all cancer deaths, according to the CDC. However, the difference in lung cancer mortality rate per capita varies from state to state. In Utah, for example, the state with the lowest lung cancer mortality rate, there were 17 age-adjusted lung cancer deaths per 100,000 residents, nearly one third the 49 per 100,000 rate in Mississippi, where the lung cancer mortality rate is the highest in the U.S.

The states with the highest cancer mortality rates do not necessarily have the highest incidence of new diagnoses, suggesting that other risk factors — such as access to health care and healthy behaviors and outcomes, including smoking and obesity — may have an impact on cancer survival.

Of the 15 states with the highest cancer mortality, all but three have a poverty rate lower than the national average of 12.3%. All 15 have obesity rates higher than the U.S. rate of 29.0%.

The likelihood of being diagnosed with cancer depends on a range of factors — including racial, economic, and education gaps — that contribute to large variations in cancer incidence as well as survival rate — this is the racial divide in cancer deaths in every state and D.C.

Click here to see the states where the largest share of the population dies from cancer.

To identify the states where most people are dying from cancer, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the cancer mortality rate rate in every state using data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 2019. 

The data for breast, lung, and prostate cancer mortality rates comes from the report, “United States Cancer Statistics: 2001-2017 Incidence and Mortality Web-based Report,” accessed from the National Program of Cancer Registries and Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Stat Database: U.S. Cancer Statistics 2001–2017, released June 2020.

The percentage of adults who currently smoke as well as the adult obesity rate in each state were obtained from the 2020 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program, produced by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. 

Data on the share of the adult population that used tobacco came from the  U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and is for 2019. The percentage of adults who are former smokers also came from BRFSS.

The percentage of residents in every state without health insurance and the poverty rate came from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 2019 1-Year Estimates.