Where You Live Affects Dying of Cancer


There is a new study that finds where you live may determine your likelihood of dying from cancer.  This study of Americans dying from cancers varies dramatically by where they live. It is said that currently lung cancer kills more people in the U.S. than any other cancer and the death rates are also more than 20X higher in some parts of the country than others.  The highest death rate in the nation from lung cancer in 2014 was in Union County, Florida where there were 231 deaths per 100,000 residents. Summit County, Colorado had the lowest death rate with only 11 deaths per 100,000 people. Now, think about it, 2004 was 14 years ago. I’m sure its more than that now since the death rate of cancer has gone up.

There appeared to be similar differences across cancers among more than 3,000 counties and cities in the U.S.  Dr. Ali Mokdad, lead author on the study and Professor of Global Health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in Seattle believes that these significant disparities among US counties are unacceptable.  The study,” Trends and patterns of disparities in cancer mortality among US counties, 1980-2014” examined 29 different types of cancers and analyzed the mortality rates and how they have changed. These findings were published in JAMA.

More than 19.5 million Americans died of cancer in the 35 years examined.  The combined national mortality rate from all cancers combined fell by 20%.  However, 160 counties did show increases in all-cancer death rates over the same period, raising questions concerning the access to care, prevention efforts, treatment and other issues.  So the question is, what is causing cancer to be so much more fatal in one part of the country than in other parts?

County level trends in the study included:

  • Liver cancer where mortality increased in nearly every county.  Large increases were also found in California, Oregon, Washington, New Mexico and Texas.
  • Even though fewer Americans now smoke than in previous decades, parts of the South and many rural areas still show high rates of this deadly habit.  High rates of lung cancer were shown in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi and rural Alaska.
  • Most counties had decreases in breast cancer death rates since 1980, but high mortality rates along the Mississippi River had the lowest rates in parts of the West, Midwest and Northeast.
  • High rates of prostate cancer were shown in counties in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia.
  • The highest death rates from kidney cancer were identified along the Mississippi River as well as in Oklahoma and Texas along with certain areas in Alaska and the Dakotas with the larger Native American populations showing rates higher than the national average.

It is Dr. Christopher Murray’s (Director of IHME) belief that state and local health officials and other health policy decision-makers and cancer advocates take note and act on this important evidence to save more lives in their communities.  Five counties with the highest mortality rates from lung cancer in 2014 are Union County in Florida, Powell, Perry, McCreary and Breathitt Counties in Kentucky. Five counties with the lowest mortality rates are Summit, Eagle and Pitkin Counties in Colorado, Cache County in Utah and Presidio County in Texas.  From breast cancer the highest mortality rates were in Madison, Holmes, and Coahoma Counties in Mississippi, and Madison and East Carroll Parish in Louisiana. Five counties with the lowest mortality rates were in Summit, Pitkin and Eagle counties in Colorado, Aleutians East Borough in Alaska and Presidio County in Texas.

Counties with the highest mortality rates from prostate cancer were Madison County in Mississippi, Macon, Wilcox and Perry counties in Alabama and Phillips County in Arkansas.  The lowest mortality rates were in Summit and Pitkin Counties in Colorado, Aleutians East Borough in Alaska, Presidio County in Texas and Noble County in Ohio.

Dr Fredda Branyon