States with the highest cancer rates

As People Live Longer, Cancer Rates Increase

Cancer is the second-most common cause of death in America (behind heart disease), but public opinion still ranks health care of lower importance than issues like national security and terrorism.

Americans pegged health care as the sixth most important issue in a recent Gallup survey, even as the National Center for Health Statistics reported 584,881 cancer deaths in 2014 alone.

Contrast this with findings from the Global Terrorism Database, which estimated the number of fatalities among U.S. citizens the same year. The grand total: 32.

Cancer might not grab headlines like an ISIS attack, but it remains a legitimate epidemic for both the nation and the world. It's also less tied to genetics than many believe. According to the National Cancer Institute, only about 5 to 10 percent of cases are inherited. Most people are much more likely to develop a cancerous gene mutation from activities they control, like smoking, lack of exercise and bad eating habits.

In order to better understand cancer incidence rates across the United States, data site HealthGrove turned to the the National Cancer Institute to rank the cancer rates across the 50 states. For each state, the figures are age-adjusted to control for disproportionately older states (like Florida) and younger states (like Utah). The numbers come from 2012, the latest full data available.

According to the NCI, the top four types of cancer in the United States are breast, lung, prostate and colon cancer, respectively. Collectively, they account for more than 750,000 new cases per year.

Outside of two notable exceptions in the South, the Northeast is home to the highest cancer rates in the nation. Researchers remain unsure why states like New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island exhibit higher rates of cancer than most of the United States.

Some studies are attempting to investigate various possible factors, such as socioeconomic status, sun exposure, ethnicity or geography-specific lifestyle factors (ex: smoking and drinking), but with so many variables, it's difficult to pinpoint a cause.

Keep in mind that the states with the highest incidence rate (new cases) don't always have the highest mortality rates (cancer-related deaths). For example, Connecticut has one of the highest cancer incidence rates in the nation (7th most in the nation), but one of the lowest cancer-related mortality rates (42nd). Meanwhile, Oklahoma is just the opposite: fewer new cancer cases (31st), but many more cancer-related deaths per 100K people (5th most).

Could Oklahoma have a health care problem? Oklahoma does have the fewest doctors per 100K people in the nation (only 63.5), while Connecticut has the 6th most (122.4). It's an interesting discrepancy, but it doesn't necessarily explain the phenomenon. For each state, we'll note these same statistics, but keep in mind these figures are only a small piece of a much larger health care puzzle.

While we've ranked the list by rate of cancer incidence, we'll provide an interactive visualization of cancer mortality on each state's slide. Finally, we'll close with a heat map of cancer mortality across the nation.

#50. New Mexico

See Facts and Visualizations for Hundreds of Conditions on HealthGrove

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