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Cancer

Alabama’s #12 Health Indicator

Alabamians identified cancer as the twelfth health indicator in Alabama. Cancer, characterized by uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells, is the second leading cause of death in Alabama. According to the American Cancer Society®, an estimated 30,830 Alabamians will be diagnosed with cancer in 2021, and an estimated 10,590 Alabamians will die from cancer in 2021 (American Cancer Society).

The top four cancers in Alabama are colorectal, female breast, lung/bronchus, and prostate cancers (CDC Cancer). These cancers represent more than 52 percent of all new tumors reported to the Alabama Statewide Cancer Registry (ASCR) in 2018. Additionally, the burden of each of these cancers could be reduced through behavior modifications such as smoking cessation, weight loss, exercise, and improved nutrition (CDC Cancer).

According to CDC, regular screening examinations by a healthcare professional can help detect cancers early (CDC Cancer). It is recommended to follow-up with a doctor during annual visits for mammograms, prostate screenings, and colonoscopies.

Disproportionately Affected Populations

In Alabama, males have slightly less than a 1 in 2 risk of developing any cancer over the course of a lifetime. For women, the risk is a little more than 1 in 3 for developing any cancer over the course of a lifetime (CDC Cancer). The risk of being diagnosed with cancer increases with age, and more than three-fourths of all cancers are diagnosed in persons 55 years of age and older. Family history and lifestyle choices can affect the frequency and age at which someone may need to be screened for cancer. For example, CDC recommends yearly lung cancer screenings if you formerly were or currently are a heavy smoker (CDC Cancer).

Geographic Variation

Physical access to cancer centers for the initial and follow-up appointments is a barrier for at-risk and new cancer patients (Rural Health Information Hub). Rural areas have a higher lung cancer incidence, colorectal cancer incidence, cervical cancer incidence, and overall cancer mortality rates compared to urban areas between 2014-2018.

Alabama Cancer Highlights

Data are retrieved from ASCR for all cancer cases diagnosed or treated in Alabama. Mortality statistics are from ADPH Center for Health Statistics Mortality Files: 

  • Although the overall cancer mortality rate for AL declined for the past few years, Alabamians have higher overall cancer mortality rates than the U.S.
  • In Alabama, lung cancer incidence rates are significantly higher than the U.S. average.
  • In Alabama, AA/black females have significantly higher rates of breast cancer incidence than white females.
  • Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. Prostate cancer incidence in Alabama has declined over the past few years most likely due to changes in screening guidelines resulting in fewer men screened.
  • In Alabama, prostate cancer occurs significantly more in AA/black males than white males.
  • The West Central Public Health District has the highest rates of cervical cancer between 2014-2018.

Health Indicators

The following indicators have been selected for use in developing a benchmark or starting point for measuring the current state and monitoring future changes in the state of cancer in Alabama:

These four cancer groupings were chosen because they represent more than 55 percent of all new tumors reported to the ASCR. Additionally, the burden of each of these cancers could be reduced through behavior modifications such as smoking cessation, weight loss, exercise, improved nutrition, and regular screening examinations by a health care professional. More cancer indicators (survival rates, screening rates, and cancer staging) may be added in the future.

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Page last updated: March 2, 2022