Where You Live May Determine Your Risk of Dying From Certain Cancers


Cancer deaths in the U.S. plummeted 20 percent between 1980 and 2014, according to a new study published in JAMA.

But while some parts of the country saw marked plunges in cancer deaths, rates went up in other areas.

For the first time, the study provided county-by-county data, whereas previous studies only broke cancer death data down by state.

Nationwide, cancer deaths dipped from 240 per 100,000 people to 192. Here’s a breakdown of the most common causes of death by cancer type:

Tracheal, bronchus, lung – 5.7 million

In this x-ray image of a chest, both sides of the lungs are visible with a growth on the right side of the lung, which could be lung cancer. Credit: National Cancer Institute

“The West and Northeast experienced declines in the mortality rate, as did Florida, while increases were observed in the South, Appalachian region, and the Midwest,” the authors reported. “The largest increase from 1980 to 2014 was observed in Owsley County, Kentucky (tobacco country) while the greatest decline was observed in Aleutians East Borough and Aleutians West Census Area, Alaska.”

Colon, rectum – 2.5 million

Overall, rates of death from these cancers dipped 35.5 percent nationwide. The highest rates of death from these cancers occurred in Union County, Florida, the lowest in Summit County, Colorado.

Breast – 1.6 million

Clusters of high breast cancer incidence were found in the south and along the Mississippi River. Overall, however, breast cancer deaths dipped almost 33 percent nationally.

Pancreatic – 1.2 million

Death rates remained almost static nationwide, but again, they varied by region. Kentucky, Kansas, and northeastern Pennsylvania all saw increases; southern Texas, California, and the Dakotas saw decreases.

Prostate – 1.1 million

Much like rates for tracheal, bronchus and lung cancers, the extremes were observed in Aleutians, Alaska and Owsley County, Kentucky, in terms of improvements/declines in mortality rates, respectively.

Related: Cervical Cancer Death Rates Are Higher Than Everyone Thought

“It is difficult to ignore that many of the regions with the worst cancer outcomes correspond to areas of greatest electoral support for the incoming presidential administration, raising hopes that future policies developed by the incoming administration will provide resources for public health interventions for this constituency,” stated an accompanying editorial by a doctor and a public health expert from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “These are precisely the regions and people with the greatest potential for better cancer outcomes through primary prevention, screening/early detection, and timely treatment.”

Related: Elephants May Hold the Key to Curing Cancer

Such strategies are what drove down cancer deaths overall during the study period, the study’s authors wrote. However, implementing such strategies cannot be standardized by region, the authors of the editorial stressed.

“Although there has been substantial publicly funded research focused on strategies for preventing and treating these diseases, there has been limited work to understand how to effectively implement those strategies in real-world settings. Implementation science was recognized as a priority research area in a Blue Ribbon Panel report for the recently legislated Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot Initiative, and a portion of the $1.8 billion committed by Congress for the Cancer Moonshot over the next seven years should be directed accordingly.”

A professional journalist nearly 30 years, David Heitz started his career at the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa before moving to Los Angeles. He led the Glendale News-Press to best small daily newspaper in the state (CNPA) as managing editor and also worked as executive news editor of the Press-Telegram. He worked briefly as deputy news editor of the Detroit News before returning to the Quad-Cities, where he has worked as a freelance medical writer since 2012 for several national websites. He recently purchased his childhood home and says he truly is “living the dream.”