Cancer is among the leading killers in America, although the figures about fatalities in comparison with other diseases have been somewhat changed because of COVID-19. Nevertheless, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 1.7 million people were diagnosed with cancer in 2018, and just short of 600,000 died.
While annual cancer rates — cancer cases per 100,000 people — have dropped slightly from 1999, the total number of people diagnosed with cancer has risen. The state where the most people are getting cancer is Kentucky. It had the highest cancer rate in 2018 with 503 new cancer cases diagnosed per 100,000 people, or a total of 27,778.
Some behaviors increase the risks of certain cancers. These include tobacco use, alcohol use, and lack of physical activity. Obesity and HPV can also increase the risk of cancer.
Some cancers are much more likely to be deadly than others. Among the deadliest are pancreatic, brain, and liver. Fatality rates are much lower among those who have prostate and thyroid cancer. (These are the cancers with the highest and lowest survival rates.)
To identify the state with the highest cancer rate, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the U.S. Cancer Statistics for 2018 (the latest year for which incidence data is available) published by the CDC. (Nevada data was unavailable, so the state has been excluded from the list.) Adult smoking and obesity rates are from the 2021 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program, produced by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, and are for 2017 and 2018, respectively.
Why do cancer rates vary significantly from state to state? Utah has the lowest rates of lung cancer and adult smoking, which may be linked in part to the high number of Mormons in the state who eschew alcohol and tobacco.
While Hawaii has the second-lowest number of cancer-related deaths in the country overall and ranks low for adult obesity and lung cancer, it leads the nation in breast cancer. This is possibly due to statistically higher breast cancer diagnoses among the state’s Native Hawaiian and Japanese-American populations.
Obesity has also been linked to greater risk of certain cancers, according to the CDC. Mississippi, for example, has the highest rate of adult obesity in the nation and the second-highest rate of cancer-related deaths. (It also ranks high for lung and prostate cancer, not associated with obesity). In comparison, Colorado has the lowest obesity rate in the country and the third-lowest rate of cancer-related deaths. (These are the most obese states in America.)