Health & Family


The number of Virginians who die from cancer has decreased in recent years, but it is still higher than the national average. The state hopes to reduce that number still more by targeting behavioral risk factors.

Why is This Important?

Over one 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 lifetime. While the overall cancer death rate declined during the 1990s, cancer remains the second leading cause of death. Although the overall death rates have dropped for some types — leukemia and breast, cervical, colorectal, stomach, and uterine cancers — the death rates for lung cancer and skin cancer, the most common types of cancer in the country, have increased.

How is Virginia Doing?

Virginia Cancer Death Rate. See text for explanation. Cancer Death Rate, 2003. See text for explanation.

Virginia's age-adjusted annual cancer death rate is 18th highest in the nation. In 2003, Virginia's rate was 197.6 deaths per 100,000 people, while the national rate was 190.1. The 2003 cancer death rates per 100,000 people in North Carolina, Tennessee and Maryland were 195.6, 212.9 and 194.9, respectively. Utah, with the lowest rate in the nation, had 144.9 deaths. However, the death rate has been falling in Virginia. The average annual rate fell from 202.9 during 1998-2002 to 195.7 during 1999-2003. Within the regions of Virginia, Central, Eastern and Hampton Roads all decreased their average annual cancer death rates, while the rates increased in Northern, Southwest, Valley and West Central. The most common form of cancer in Virginia is lung and bronchus, followed by colon and rectum cancer.

Virginia Cancer Deaths By Type

Type '98 '99 '00 '01 '02
Oral Cavity and Pharynx 11.2 10.9 9.5 9.7 9.1
Esophagus 4.7 4.5 5.1 4.3 4.3
Stomach 6.4 6.2 6.1 5.6 5.4
Colon and Rectum 53.4 50.5 51.2 48.9 45.7
Liver and Intra
Hepatic Bile Duct
3.5 3.6 3.4 3 3
Pancreas 8.5 8.4 8.1 7 7.7
Larynx 4.9 4.7 4.9 4 3.8
Lung and Bronchus 63.6 62.8 62.6 59.2 58.5
Melanoma of the Skin 13.4 14.2 14.6 14.3 16.2
Urinary Bladder 18.8 18.8 18.4 16.5 17.4
Kidney and Renal Pelvis 10.2 9.7 10.6 10.5 10.8
Brain and Other
Nervous System
5.7 6.1 5.7 4.8 4.6
Thyroid 4.8 5.7 6.2 5.2 5.9
Hodgkin Lymphoma 2.4 2.7 2.5 2.2 3
Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma 15.7 15.9 16.2 14.7 15.1
Multiple Myeloma 4.4 4.5 4.6 3.6 3.8
Leukemias 7.8 7.1 8.5 7.1 7.7
Other/ Unknown 10.2 10.7 9.3 10 9.8

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 that the state can influence: tobacco use, physical inactivity, overweight, diet and alcohol use. To reduce these risks, the state can engage in educational programs about the risks of cancer; implement structural interventions, such as regulations to reduce the use of tobacco; and facilitate local activates to promote a healthier environment and lifestyle.

Data Definitions and Sources

Regional Data: Virginia Department of Health, Center for Health Statistics

State Data: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Harvard Reports on Cancer Prevention

American Cancer Society

Ries, L.A.G., M.P. Eisner, C.L. Kosary, et al. (eds). SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1973-1998. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute, 2001.


Recent State Initiatives

The Virginia Comprehensive Cancer Control Project (VA-CCC) builds capacity and sustains partnerships to address cancer prevention and control across the state. The project works collaboratively with community-based organizations, universities, hospitals, community health centers and others to promote cancer prevention and early detection, increase access to health and social services, and enhance survivorship and quality of life for cancer patients. It provides training and technical assistance and educational materials, supports a statewide cancer coalition, offers surveillance data, and funds local initiatives. The VA-CCC collaborates with the Tobacco Use Control Project, Division of Dental Health, Virginia Cancer Registry, and the Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. Recent initiatives include a prostate cancer public awareness campaign and a statewide colorectal cancer summit. cancerprev/index.asp

Major State Programs

The Virginia Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, also known as Every Woman's Life (EWL), offers free breast and cervical cancer screening exams, including mammograms, clinical breast exams, Pap tests and diagnosticservices as indicated, through a statewide network of health providers 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. Since 1998, the program has been federally funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Virginia Cancer Registry: The registry is a program in the Division of Chronic Disease Prevention and Control in the Office of Family Health Services, Virginia Department of Health. The registry routinely provides statistical information and epidemiological analyses of the burden of cancer in Virginia, receiving and processing approximately 35,000 cancer case reports from over 125 reporters each year. The diverse audience for VCR products includes citizens, public health planners, academic medical researchers, cancer service organizations, physicians, cancer facility planners and government officials.