In 2020, nearly 2 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed across the country. This year alone, more than 600,000 people are expected to die from cancer. While medical advances have lowered the cancer death rate, the number of cases continue to rise.

In the age of coronavirus, patients with comorbidities such as cancer are at great risk. While coronavirus is potentially deadly for everyone, it’s particularly deadly for those with pre-existing conditions. Since the virus attacks one’s lungs and respiratory system, those with lung cancer or mesothelioma are particularly vulnerable.

In this article, we analyze the latest projections on new cancer cases from the American Cancer Society for 2020. We look at the overall rate of new cases per 100,000 residents of each state. We pay particular attention to lung cancer rate, plus other major cancers like breast cancer and prostate cancer.

Overall, we found that West Virginia, Florida, and Delaware have the highest cancer rates while Utah, Alaska, and California have the lowest rates. When it comes to lung cancer, West Virginia, Kentucky and Maine have the highest rates of new cases.


Each year the American Cancer Society updates its projections for new cancer rates through their Cancer Statistics Center. For 2020, let’s begin by looking at the states with the highest per capita cancer rates. The chart below shows the estimated new cancer cases per 100,000 people who live in the state:

The state with the highest cancer rates in the country is West Virginia, with 693 cases per 100,000 people. West Virginia has nearly twice the cancer rate as the state with the lowest rate, Utah. There are a variety of potential explanations for high cancer rates in West Virginia such as an aging population, poverty, and prevalence of smoking. For example, 27.3% of adults in West Virginia are smokers compared to only 10.3% in Utah. These conditions in West Virginia and similar states make it a very vulnerable state to the impact of coronavirus.

Part of the reason West Virginia has the highest cancer rate in the country is that it also has the highest lung cancer rate. The chart below shows the states with the highest lung cancer rates:

Not only does West Virginia have high rates of smoking, but it also has a large coal mining industry. Coal miners report high rates of lung cancer due to their work environments. Like West Virginia, Kentucky is also a state with high rates of smoking and a sizable presence of coal mining jobs. It’s also worth noting that Utah has a very low rate of lung cancer that’s 5 times lower than the states at the top of this ranking. A younger population with lower smoking rates appears to be a recipe for lower lung cancer rates.

Next, let’s review the prevalence of new cancer rates for female breast cancer and prostate cancer.  The chart below shows the states with the highest rates of female breast cancer per capita:

Maine, Connecticut, and Vermont take the top three positions with regard to high rates of female breast cancer. Maine is the state with the highest median age in the country and both Connecticut and Vermont rank in the top five for having the oldest populations. On the flip side, Utah, Texas, and Alaska all have the lowest rates of female breast cancer and are also all in the top three states with the youngest populations.


Next, let’s look at the rates of states with the highest rates of new prostate cancer cases per capita:

Delaware has the highest rate of new prostate cancer cases in America, followed by Maryland and Alabama. Unlike breast cancer, these states with high levels of prostate cancer cases are not necessarily the ones with the oldest inhabitants. However, prostate cancer appears to be linked to a number of factors such as age and smoking. Younger states like Utah and Texas have the lowest rates of new prostate cancer cases in the country.


When reviewing the rates of new cancer cases in 2020, it’s notable that different states get different types of cancers depending on the local characteristics of their populations.

In aggregate, states like West Virginia and Florida have the highest rates of cancer. This is because they tend to be older, but also due to high rates of smoking and other risky behaviors. Some of these factors may make the coronavirus outbreak especially deadly in locations like these.

Additionally, when it comes to lung cancer, places like West Virginia and Kentucky with high rates of smoking and coal mining jobs have the highest incidence rates. Whereas breast cancer is most prevalent in states with older populations like Maine and Connecticut.

However, across all cancers we looked at, younger healthier states tend to have much lower rates of cancer. These states like Utah, Texas, and Alaska may have the populations best equipped to handle the coronavirus outbreak with lower fatality rates. However, the states with the most projected new cancer cases this year tend to have an older population, more poverty, and worse public health practices. These are the places that may be particularly vulnerable to coronavirus outbreaks.

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