US Cancer Mortality Rates Decline, but Remain High in Certain Regions


A new study highlights important changes in trends and patterns among cancer mortality in the United States.

A recently-published study highlights important changes in trends and patterns among cancer mortality in the United States. The findings, based on death records obtained from the National Center for Health Statistics, reveal a decrease in cancer mortality overall. However, findings also point to distinct regional clusters with substantial cancer-specific mortality rates that remain high.

Investigators combed through data from death records and population counts to determine cancer deaths and population by county, and identified a drop in cancer mortality by a relative 20.1% between 1980 and 2014. In 2014, cancer-related deaths were at the lowest rates in Summit County, Colorado.

Conversely, cancer deaths remained especially high in certain regional clusters, with the highest increases seen in Kentucky and across several regions of the South. The biggest site-specific cancer mortality increase was in the South, the Appalachian region, and the Midwest. Union County, Florida, showed the highest cancer-related deaths in 2014.

Tracheal, bronchial, and lung cancers, which are the cancer types with the most deaths, declined in mortality rates by 21% during the study period. Colorectal cancers also dropped, showing a decline of 35.5% overall. Despite this, clusters of high rates of colorectal cancer deaths were still observed along the Mississippi River in Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana. The highest rate was seen in Union County, Florida, and the lowest in Summit County, Colorado.

Breast cancer mortality rates dropped by almost one third, and also dropped significantly in most regions as well. Summit County, Colorado and Nassau County, New York showed the greatest reduction in breast cancer mortality, but rates remained high in the South and along the Mississippi River.

Mortality rates for prostate cancer declined by 21.7%, with the most significant drops seen in the Aleutians East Borough and the Aleutians West Census Area, Alaska.

The study’s researchers concluded that higher site-specific mortality rates could be linked to high risk-factor profiles of the residents and poor prevention and screening programs. Lack of screening for preventable cancers, poor awareness of cancer and its symptoms, and decreased access to health care are all possible factors related to the high mortality rates.


Mokdad AH, Dwyer-Lindgren L, Fitzmaurice C, et al. Trends and Patterns of Disparities in Cancer Mortality Among US Counties, 1980-2014. JAMA. 2017;317(4):388-406. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.20324.

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