In a country as geographically vast as the United States, and with a large and mobile population, it’s not surprising that cancer rates vary by region, by state – and even by localities within states.
For example, breast cancer incidence rates are highest in the Northeast, followed by the Midwest and the South. But death rates from breast cancer are highest in the Midwest, followed by the South and the West.
Lung cancer rates in men are highest in the South, followed by the Midwest and the Northeast. In women, the incidence of lung cancer is highest in the Midwest, followed by the Northeast and the South. Such differences are also found in colorectal, prostate, and other cancers.
Across the 50 states, incidence rates vary between 380-510.7 new cancers per 100,000 population. And cancer death rates vary as well – from 125.6-200.9 deaths per 100,000 population.
Accounting for these differences is difficult because of the long list of variables that may play a role. They include demographic factors such as ethnicity, socioeconomic status and age; lifestyle factors like diet, smoking and alcohol use; sun exposures; ages of menarche and first pregnancy among women. Occupational and environmental exposures to chemicals or radiation also can affect cancer incidence rates.
Other factors include differences in rates of cancer screening and early diagnosis, and advances in medical practice and health care management.
Ongoing studies are attempting to understand the variations in patterns of cancer incidence across the United States, but the wide range of factors at work – and the fact that Americans tend to move frequently – make this field a challenging one.