State drops to third place in cancer death rates

January 29, 1995|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,American Cancer SocietySun Staff Writer

Maryland has dropped from second to third place in the American Cancer Society's annual ranking of cancer death rates in the 50 states, a change that owes more to Louisiana's worsening toll than to major improvements here.

The cancer mortality rate dropped by one death per 100,000 people -- a difference that is not considered statistically significant. In the meantime, Louisiana's rate grew by a slightly larger degree, giving that state the dubious distinction of ranking second to Delaware.

Despite the shuffle, the Mid-Atlantic region remains the place where cancer makes the heaviest impact. As it has for many years, the District of Columbia exceeds all states in cancer mortality, with Delaware and Maryland following closely behind.

The District of Columbia's rate was 227 cancer deaths per 100,000 people; Delaware's was 196 per 100,000; and Maryland's, 192 per 100,000.

The statistics were compiled for Cancer Facts and Figures 1995, which was issued last week. The death rates actually reflect average annual mortality during the period from 1987 through 1991, the most recent years for which figures are available.

For several years, Maryland was the state with the highest cancer mortality rate. But two years ago it was surpassed by Delaware.

Although smoking rates have dropped steadily in recent years, Maryland's past love affair with tobacco appears to be a major reason why Maryland ranks high in cancer deaths overall. Smoking takes 15 to 20 years to trigger cancers of the lung and throat.

"If anybody wants to know why we have a high rate, it's basically because of these tobacco-related cancers," said Dr. John Southard, director of chronic disease control for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Figures compiled by the state health department show that Maryland ranks above the national average in deaths caused by eight cancers -- lung, colorectal, esophagus, prostate, bladder, liver, pharynx and larynx.

Smoking is a chief cause of four of those -- lung, esophagus, pharynx and larynx.

Nationally, lung cancer kills more people than any other cancer.

Dr. Southard said the state has now dipped below the national average in three other cancers: pancreas, breast and multiple myeloma, which is a cancer of the bone marrow.

The drop in breast cancer deaths might stem from the increased use of mammography to detect tumors while they still are small, he said.

In Maryland, the smoking rate among adults dropped from 28.7 percent in 1986 to 19.7 percent in 1993, according to the health department. This puts it several percentage points below the U.S. rate.

"It's the kids we worry about the most," Dr. Southard said. "The kids are smoking at very high rates, especially on the Eastern Shore."

CANCER DEATH RATES

Here are the states with the five highest and the five lowest cancer mortality rates during the five-year period, 1987 to 1991. The District of Columbia, which perennially has a higher rate than does any state, is shown but not ranked.

NO. .. .. .. .. ..WHERE .. .. .. ..RATE*

.. .. .. .. ...Washington, D.C. .. ..227

1 .. .. .. .. .Delaware .. .. .. .. .196

2 .. .. .. .. .Louisiana .. .. .. ...193

3 .. .. .. .. .Maryland .. .. .. .. .192

4 .. .. .. .. .Kentucky .. .. .. .. .191

5 .. .. .. .. .New Jersey .. .. .. ..185

.. .. .. .. ...U.S. combined .. .. ..173

46 .. .. .. ...Idaho .. .. .. .. .. .148

47 .. .. .. ...Colorado .. .. .. .. .148

48 .. .. .. ...New Mexico .. .. .. ..146

49 .. .. .. ...Hawaii .. .. .. .. ...137

50 .. .. ... ..Utah .. .. .. .. .. ..125

* Annual number of cancer deaths for every 100,000 inhabitants.

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