Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Washington combined cancer rates tops in western counties

by Danning Chen March 15th, 2013

Five years of data from the National Cancer Institute’s State Cancer Profiles database show that within Washington state, the overall rate of cancer is highest in western counties and lowest in rural and eastern counties. From 2005 through 2009 it was highest in Mason County, at an annual average rate of 554.6 cases per 100,000 population versus 476 per 100,000 across the whole state. Among the state’s 39 counties the rest of the top 10 for 2005-2009 in overall cancer rate, in order, are Grays Harbor, Whatcom, Pierce, Snohomish, Skagit, Thurston Jefferson, Cowlitz and Kitsap. King County ranked 13th. Lowest overall cancer rates were, in order, in the counties of Klickitat, Skamania, Garfield, Asotin and Ferry. Hover over any Washington county in the mapped visualization below to get its overall – known as “all types” – cancer rate, and also use the pull-down menu to select mapped data by Washington county on rates of breast, lung and prostate cancer. A tab atop the map also provides access to U.S. cancer rates by state, for 2009. As we reported recently, Washington ranked 13th among 50 states in the “all types” rate in 2009, but first in breast cancer.

For breast cancer by county in Washington for 2005-09, Walla Walla County had the highest annual average rate, 159.4 diagnosed cases per 100,000 population. It was followed by the counties of Mason, Cowlitz, Snohomish, Whatcom, King and Thurston. Douglas County had the highest rate of prostate cancer, followed by San Juan, Chelan and Whitman. Grays Harbor County had far and away the highest rate of cancer of the lung and bronchus.

Contributing to the “all types” rates, according to NCI, are “all invasive cancer sites combined, bladder, breast, brain, cervix, childhood cancers all sites combined, colon and rectum, esophagus, kidney, leukemias, liver and bile duct, lung and bronchus, melanomas of the skin, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, oral cavity and pharynx, ovary, pancreas, prostate, stomach, thyroid, and uterus.”

(UPDATE: Why one county has a higher rate than another is hard to determine precisely. However in a backgrounder the Washington State Department of Health notes that cancer risk factors include exposure to tobacco and second-hand smoke, excessive alcohol use, excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun or tanning beds, lack of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, unhealthy weight, physical inactivity, and not regularly seeking medical care. Additionally, the National Cancer Institute provides an online collection of fact sheets on risks related to different types of cancer.)

An average annual count of newly-diagnosed cancer cases in each jurisdiction, along with official population data and other statistical and methodological controls are used to develop the rates. More details are available under the links titled, “Interpret,” “About This Table” and “Quick Reference Guide” at the NCI State Cancer Profiles chart for Washington state “all types” rates by county.


Assistance on the data visualization provided by Mike Klaczynski. Additional reporting by Matt Rosenberg. Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.


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