West Virginia Cancer Death Rate Falling

Mortality still higher than U.S. average

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Cancer mortality in West Virginia is declining, according to recent studies, and is dropping faster than in the nation as a whole. But the rate still exceeds the U.S. average.

“Across the country, we’re seeing reductions in deaths from cancer, particularly in cancers that can be prevented by lifestyle changes,” says John E. Prescott, M.D., interim director of the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center at West Virginia University. “I’m confident that early detection and improved treatments are the cause.”

In West Virginia, according to recent data from the National Cancer Institute, cancer deaths dropped 1.5 percent per year from 1999-2003, the latest five-year period for which full data are available. Nationally, the death rate dropped by 1.3 percent per year over the same period.

“We still have far to go,” Dr. Prescott said, noting that some 4,700 state residents die each year from cancer. “West Virginia has mounted a statewide effort to combat cancer, including several state agencies, the Cancer Center at WVU, and hundreds of health professionals and citizen volunteers across the state. By putting good information into peoples’ hands, and making cancer prevention and care accessible in every community, we are taking the best advantage of the advances that science provides.”

"Cancer is a devastating disease that has touched the lives of nearly, if not all, West Virginians. The Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center is attacking cancer on all fronts: treating cancer patients with cutting-edge, comprehensive care; finding new cancer cases in their early, treatable forms; and researching a cancer cure," said U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd, who secured federal funds for the cancer center.

Byrd said the doctors, nurses and researchers at West Virginia University should be proud of the progress the state is making. "The WVU center is making an impact statewide in cancer detecting and prevention and helping to save lives."

"The good news that West Virginia’s cancer rate is falling is tempered by the fact that our state remains higher than the national average. We cannot stop at this first sign of progress. As individuals, we must continue to strive to live healthier lives and make preventive care a top priority. As a state and a nation, we must continue to invest in life-saving research. We can find the cures to these diseases, and the answers may be found in West Virginia," Byrd stated.

Important risk factors for cancers in West Virginia include high smoking rates, a relatively high incidence of the human papilloma virus which can cause cervical cancer and a need to increase access for early cancer screening.


Within the state, the most progress was made in uterine and prostate cancers. The death rate from uterine cancer plummeted an average of 6.1 percent each year during the period.  Prostate cancer deaths declined by 5.4 percent per year.

The West Virginia death rate from cancer during the five-year period was 218.5 per 100,000 people. The U.S. rate was 195.7.

Research at WVU’s Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center focuses on those cancers that occur in WV at rates that are higher than the national average.  These health disparities include lung cancer, head and neck cancer, ovarian cancer and cervical cancer. WVU also has a broad-based research program in breast cancer. In some West Virginia counties, breast cancer mortality is much higher in than the national average.

Detailed statistical information on cancer in West Virginia and the U.S. – including county-by-county statistics –  is available online from the National Cancer Institute at: http://www.statecancerprofiles.cancer.gov.

- WVU -

For more information:
Steve Bovino, HSC News Service, (304) 293-7087

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