While deaths from all forms of cancer dropped nationally by 20 percent over the past 35 years, a new study shows that death rates actually increased in some U.S. counties, including in rural areas of Tennessee, Kentucky and other parts of the South.
he death rate varied depending on the type of cancer, but was particularly striking for lung cancer. Kentucky led the nation with 85 deaths per 100,000 people, followed by West Virginia with almost 77 deaths, and then Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas, all in the 72-73 deaths per 100,000 people range. Utah had the lowest rate, at 26 per 100,000, while California, Colorado and New Mexico were all in the mid- to high-30s.
But the data is even more striking when viewed at the county level. Hamilton County, for example, has a lung cancer death rate of 60 per 100,000, compared to 106 for Polk County and less than 41 for wealthy Williamson County, in the Nashville suburbs.
Dr. Gustavo Miranda-Carboni, a cancer researcher at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, said that when he reviewed the study, he was particularly struck by a large cluster of dark red along the Mississippi River near Memphis. The red showed counties where the cancer death rate had gone up the most in the past 35 years.
“After reading the study, I walked into my colleagues’ offices and said, ‘Look at this. This can’t be normal. We have an exploding rate of aggressive cancers,'” he said.