Cancer Rates in Washington, DC

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States and it is estimated that 595,690 Americans will die of cancer in 2016 (1). Between 2008 and 2016, the District of Columbia ranked 6th highest in the nation for cancer deaths, third highest in the nation for colorectal cancer deaths, and first in the nation for deaths due to prostate, cervical, and breast cancers (2).

Cancer mortality rates in DC from 2008-2012, per 100,000(1)


District of Columbia







Since 1975, cancer deaths among African Americans have remained consistently higher than among whites, and in 2012 the cancer death rates were 24% higher for African American men and 14% higher for African American women than  in white men and women, respectively (3). Among males, incidence and death rates are higher among African Americans than whites for all cancers combined and for the most common cancers (including prostate, lung, colorectal, kidney, and pancreas). In contrast, African American women have a lower risk of cancer overall than white women, largely due to lower incidence rates for the two most common cancers, breast and lung. However, African American women have higher death rates overall and for breast and several other cancer sites.(3) 

In 2008, across the United States, overall cancer mortality was 21 percent higher among blacks than among whites. The disparity was much greater in the District, where overall cancer mortality among black District residents was 90 percent higher than mortality among white District residents. Black residents of the District experienced an overall cancer mortality rate that was 12 percent higher than the rate for blacks nationwide. In contrast, white District residents experienced substantially lower cancer mortality than whites across the United States. (5)

Age-Adjusted Overall Cancer Mortality per 100,000 in the District and the United States by Race, 2008 (5)


District of Columbia








Cancer mortality rates for 2012, per 100,000 (3, 4)  


     Non-Hispanic Whites 

 African Americans       Hispanic
Mortality     170.2  199.2     117.8

Since the Hispanic population is younger than the non-Hispanic white population, a larger proportion of cancers are diagnosed in younger age groups. For example, 25% of cancer diagnoses in Hispanics are in those younger than 50 years of age, compared to only 12% in non-Hispanic whites. Overall, about 1 in 3 Hispanic men and 1 in 3 Hispanic women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. The lifetime probability of dying from cancer is 1 in 5 for Hispanic men and 1 in 6 for Hispanic women. Cancer is the leading cause of death among Hispanics, accounting for 22% deaths in 2012. 

Scientific evidence suggests that several lifestyle factors including tobacco, obesity, and physical inactivity are linked to various cancers including breast, prostate, lung, and colon. The American Cancer Society estimates that smoking accounts for 30% of all cancer deaths, and 87% of lung cancer deaths (1). Recent statistics show that 24.1% of African Americans who are residents of the District of Columbia are at risk for developing tobacco-related illnesses such cancer, compared to 21.6% nationally (2).

Similarly, the American Cancer Society reported that about one-third of the cancer deaths each year are related to poor nutrition, lack of physical inactivity, excess alcohol consumption, and being overweight or obese, and thus could be prevented (1). 

What is clear from the numbers and statistics above, is that too many Americans suffer from the burden of cancer each year. Many of these cases can be prevented - both nationally and in metropolitan DC. The efforts at Lombardi seek to advance our knowledge of cancer to reduce the incidence and mortality of these diseases. However, we place a strong emphasis on working to address the causes that lead to the cancer disparities of minorities here in DC.

For more information about these efforts, please visit the Health Disparities Initiative homepage.

Reference List

1.    American Cancer Society (2016). Cancer Facts & Figures 2016.
2.    American Cancer Society (2008). South Atlantic Division Cancer Facts & Figures 2008.
3.    American Cancer Society (2016). Cancer Facts and Figures for African Americans 2016-2018.
4.    American Cancer Society (2015). Cancer Facts and Figures for Hispanics/Latinos 2015-2017.
5.    Price, Rebecca Anhang, Janice C. Blanchard, Racine Harris, Teague Ruder and Carole Roan Gresenz. Monitoring Cancer Outcomes Across the Continuum: Data Synthesis and Analysis for the District of Columbia. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2012.
6.    Medina R., Vargas A., Rogers K. & Pearson-Fields, A. (2014). Burden of Cancer in the District of Columbia. Washington, DC; District of Columbia Department of Health (DOH), Community Health Administration, Bureau of Cancer and Chronic Disease.
7.    Vargas A, Rogers K, Pearson-Fields AS. District of Columbia Cancer Report, 2011. Washington, DC: District of Columbia Department of Health; Community Health Administration, Bureau of Cancer and Chronic Disease, 2012.