Cancer, Life Expectancy and U. S. Geography

In a previous post, I wrote about the 20-year variance in life expectancy between ben_franklincounties in the US.

Access to (and use of) healthcare services are a key component in determining how long people live.

Colorectal cancer screening matters. This is the third most common type of cancer in the US. According to the American Cancer Society, there will be

  • 95.520 new cases of colon cancer in the US in 2017
  • 39,910 new cases of rectal cancer
  • 50,260 deaths from colorectal cancer in 2017 (1)

The 5-year survival rate for colon cancer ranges from 92% for Stage I cancer to 11% for Stage IV. For rectal cancer, the range is from 87% for Stage I to 12% for Stage IV.

Early detection is essential.

However, early detection requires screening, and that’s where access to healthcare and geography become a factor.

Screening is recommended for persons over 50, although rates of colorectal cancer have been growing among the 20-35 age group.

Screening rates are very  high in the northeastern US, and quite low in much of the Midwest and South.

The top states for screening:

State                     Screening rate                     Life expectancy from birth

Maine:                         60.5%                                           79.1
Vermont:                     59.6%                                           79.8
New Hampshire:       54.5%                                           80.1
Delaware:                   49.7%                                            78.8
Connecticut:               48.3%                                            80.8
Massachusetts:          47.9%                                             80.7

The worst states for screening:

Wyoming:                    9.9%                                              78.5
Oklahoma:                 16.7%                                              75.8
Utah:                            21.4%                                              79.9
Nevada:                       24.1%                                              78.2
Missouri:                     25.5%                                              77.6
Arkansas:                    28.1%                                              75.8
Idaho:                           28.7%                                              79.2
Kansas:                         29.7%                                              78.6
Mississippi:                  31.5%                                              75.4
Alabama:                      31.7%                                              74.8

While cancer screening isn’t the only factor affecting life expectancy, it helps. In general,  people in low screening states have shorter life expectancies. As always, there are exceptions:

  • Maine’s paper mills (most recently closed) and Delaware’s concentration of chemical plants create other issues for residents.
  • The life expectancy in Nevada is misleading; it’s high in the Las Vegas area and low in the rest of the state.



  1. American Cancer Society, “Key Statistics for Colorectal Cancer,” undated.
  2. Eric Oliver, “The 20 states with the best and worst colorectal cancer screening rates,” Becker’s GI and Endoscopy, 27 June 2017.
  3. Steven Peters, “States With the Longest (and Shortest) Life Expectancy,”  24/7 Wall Street, 16 March 2017.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, “State-Specific Healthy Life Expectancy at Age 65 Years — United States, 2007–2009,” 19 July 2013.



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