Blog Post

The states where people are most likely to die of cancer

December 11, 2013

    Dan Diamond, Managing Editor

    The latest edition of America's Health Rankings is filled with plenty of useful (and oft-concerning) information about the state of the states, from a top-line review of which states are the healthiest to more in-depth individual profiles like this look at Maryland.

    One national nugget that jumped out to me—the rankings compile cancer mortality data. And looking by state, those mortality rates are truly all over the map.

    Here's another way of looking at that same data; the table gives you a better sense of the gap between the mortality rate in Utah and some of the Southeastern states.

    A small surprise, at least to the Daily Briefing staff: Residents of the happiest states are also among the least likely to have cancer, and vice versa.

    (Whether causation or correlation, it did raise a semi-serious office debate for our team: Does happiness cure cancer?)

     

    Boost screening to cut mortality

    Here's a more practical question: Let's say you're a provider in a state with a high cancer mortality rate. How can you make a difference?

    "From an oncology perspective, generally the best thing you can do to improve survival is to improve screening rates," the Oncology Roundtable's Lindsay Conway told me.

    "The single best example comes from the Ralph Lauren Cancer Center in Harlem," she added. "They have a high-touch patient navigation program designed by Dr. Harold Freeman"—the past president of the American Cancer Society—"to increase screening rates in under-served communities." [Editor's note: That example is included in the Roundtable's popular study on patient navigation, and Lindsay pointed me to the Harold Freeman profile here.] 

    "It’s a great story because they were able to increase five-year survival from 39% to 70%."

    Lindsay and other experts also suggested that an emerging tactic to curb mortality—especially in states with high rates of smoking, like Mississippi and Kentucky— is using low-dose CT to screen high-risk patients for lung cancer. The Lahey Clinic has instituted one such program, and Ingrid Lund spoke with Lahey staff about their efforts here.

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