Health and Family


Health Header


The number of Virginians who die from cancer has decreased in recent years, and the death rate is now below the national average. Virginia hopes to reduce that number still more by targeting behavioral risk factors.

Why is This Important?

Over 1.6 million people are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States. Approximately one out of every two American men and one out of every three American women will have some type of cancer at some point during their lifetimes. While the overall cancer death rate has been steadily declining, cancer remains the second leading cause of death.

For men and women combined, the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in Virginia is lung and bronchus cancer, followed by colon and rectum cancer. The most common form of cancer for women is breast cancer. For men, prostate cancer is the most common cancer.

How is Virginia Doing?

Age-adjusted death rates, 2000-2004.  See text for explanation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Virginia ranks 24th among the states for its age-adjusted annual cancer death rate. In 2012 -- the most recent year national data is available -- Virginia's rate was 165.3 deaths per 100,000 people, below the national average of 166.4. Virginia's rate was also below that of all our peer states: Tennessee (187.9), North Carolina (170.5), and Maryland (166.0). Although their rate actually rose a bit, Utah again had the lowest rate in the nation in 2012 at 128.7 deaths per 100,000 people.

Age-adjusted cancer death rates by Virginia region.  See text for explanation.

Data collected by Virginia’s Department of Health reveals that cancer rates continue to fall in many regions of the state. The Northern region again had the lowest age-adjusted cancer mortality rate at 128.7 per 100,000 in 2014; the Eastern region had the highest rate in 2014 at 186.7 per 100,000 people, followed closely by the Southwest region with 186.4 deaths.

What Influences the Cancer Rate?

Environmental carcinogens, tobacco, diet and obesity, sedentary lifestyle, occupational factors, family history, environmental pollution, ultraviolet radiation, and socioeconomic status have all been linked to cancer. Recently, viruses and other biologic agents, as well as alcohol consumption (particularly when interacting with tobacco), have also been linked to cancer.

What is the State's Role?

According to a Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention report, there are at least five behavioral risk factors for cancer that states can help influence: tobacco use, physical inactivity, obesity, diet, and alcohol use. To reduce these risks, the state can engage in educational programs; implement structural interventions, such as regulations to reduce the use of tobacco; and facilitate local activities to promote a healthier environment and lifestyle.

Page last modified April 26, 2016
Cancer Death Rates, by State. Cancer Death Rates by Virginia Region.

State rankings are ordered so that #1 is understood to be the best.

Data and Definitions

Regional Data: 

  • Cancer deaths by age group provided by the Virginia Department of Health.
  • Population data provided by the Bridged-Race Census population, prepared by NCHS:
  • Regional age-adjusted rates computed by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service

National Data:
National Cancer Institute,
State-level data is age-adjusted to the 2000 US population.
(updated annually in February)

Harvard Reports on Cancer Prevention

American Cancer Society,
See also "Cancer Statistics 2014,"

See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.

At a Glance:
Cancer in Virginia

Performance Trend:  Trend is improving.
State Influence:  

National Ranking: Adjusting for age, Virginia's cancer death rate in 2012 -- 165 deaths per 100,000 people -- was 24th in the nation and below the national average.

Virginia by region: The Northern region again had the lowest age-adjusted cancer mortality rate at 129 per 100,000 people (2014).

State Programs & Initiatives

The Cancer Action Coalition of Virginia works collaboratively with community-based organizations, universities, hospitals, and community health centers to promote cancer prevention and early detection, increase access to health care and social services, and enhance survivorship and quality-of-life for cancer patients.

The Virginia Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program offers free cancer screening exams -- including mammograms, clinical breast exams, Pap tests and other diagnostics -- to women who qualify by age, income, and insurance status. A special focus is placed on reaching out to women who have rarely or never been screened for cervical cancer.

The Virginia Cancer Registry provides statistical information and analyses of the burden of cancer in Virginia. The registry processes about 35,000 cancer case reports each year.