Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Data viz: whiteness, not latitude, tied to skin cancer rates

by Danning Chen April 9th, 2013

U.S. states with the highest skin cancer rates tend to have a high proportion of whites in their population while those with the lowest rates don’t. And the top two states for skin cancer, Vermont and Utah, feature especially high concentrations – compared to others – of young whites, age 18 to 24. These are a few of the correlations evident from the most recent annual skin cancer rates across the U.S., for 2009, and some of the demographic risk factors identified in scientific research. The official “white/non-Hispanic” population is 80 percent-plus in seven of the top ten skin cancer states, versus only one of the bottom ten. Three of the top ten were in the Northwest: Idaho fifth, Washington sixth and Oregon tied for seventh. Exposure to ultraviolet rays from both sun and tanning beds is considered a major risk factor for skin cancer, but sunny climes alone don’t appear to be a determinant. States typically bathed in ultraviolet rays such as Florida, Texas, and Arizona were in the bottom quintile for skin cancer. You can further explore the data in the visualization below.

(Additional user tips: You can hover over the dot in each state for all three data points. To quickly rank states, hover over any of the three column headers in chart, then slide cursor to longest of the adjacent horizontal bars and click for a descending sort.)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with 61,646 melanomas of the skin diagnosed in 2009, and 9,199 attributed deaths. According to research published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report in 2012, skin cancer costs approximately $1.7 billion to treat annually in the U.S. and results in $3.8 billion in lost productivity. The National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Trends Progress Report – 2011-2012 Update notes younger adults and men are less likely to apply forms of sun protection, as are adults with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level. Another risk group is young white women prone to use of indoor tanning beds.


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