U.S. States With The Highest Cancer Mortality Rates

The Southern United States sees more cancer deaths per capita than any other part of the country.

Cancer in the US

Every year, millions of people are diagnosed with cancer and over 600,000 of them lose the fight in the United States. One out of every four deaths in the country is attributed to cancer, making it the second leading cause of death. The most common types of cancer here are: breast, cervical, colon, liver, lung, ovarian, prostate, and skin. As is seen across the globe, cancer diagnoses and deaths disproportionately affect the low-income states and regions of the US. This is due to a number of factors including lack of proper insurance coverage and unequal access to medical care. Unfortunately, some states suffer higher cancer-related death rates than others. Below is a look at those areas.

US States with Highest Cancer Mortality Rates

Cancer mortality is the number of deaths attributed to cancer that occur within a year; it is presented as the number of deaths per 100,000 population. In the US, the three states with the highest cancer mortality rates are Kentucky (199.3 deaths out of 100,000 cancer patients), Mississippi (196.5), and West Virginia (190.5). These also happen to be the states that are consistently named the poorest in the country, both in economy and health. They are included in the southern region (with the exception of West Virginia which is sometimes southern, sometimes eastern) which some researchers have deemed the “cancer belt” of the US. Other southern states with high mortality rates include Arkansas (189.6), Louisiana (188.7), Oklahoma (185.4), Tennessee (185.4), and Alabama (182.1). The southern district is high in several types of cancers including brain and lung. Lung cancer can be attributed to the long history of tobacco industry in this region which has resulted in high numbers of smokers.

Also on the list, but not in the southern region, are Indiana (179.4) and Missouri (179.1).

Cancer Health Disparities

Cancer health disparities in these states are due to a number of factors, namely, low socioeconomic status. Residents of these states are likely to have a low socioeconomic status meaning they have attained lower levels of education, income, and community status. A person’s socioeconomic status negatively affects their access to a higher quality of life, decreases their chance of having adequate health insurance, and often exposes them to dangerous jobs and housing locations with increased exposure to environmental toxins. It also influences controllable cancer risk factors resulting in a higher probability of smoking, drinking, sedentary activity, and obesity. Low socioeconomic status disproportionately affects African Americans, Latinos, and Whites living in the Appalachian region (Kentucky, West Virginia, and Tennessee from the list). These individuals are also more likely to die from cancer.

The Burden of Poverty

But with such advanced medical technology in the US, why do so many people fall victim to cancer? All of the states on this list suffer from a lack of resources to carry out public health outreach campaigns like education and screenings. Many cancers, if diagnosed early on, can be prevented or successfully treated. When the state cannot invest in public health and when the people themselves cannot afford access to healthcare, health screening and prevention are often overlooked. These areas, therefore, have a reactive rather than a proactive approach to healthcare which can have fatal consequences when dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Indeed, one could say that poverty is actually the root cause of high mortality rates in these states.

U.S. States With The Highest Cancer Mortality Rates

RankStateCancer Deaths Per 100,000 People Per Year
3West Virginia190.5

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