Cancer poses a significant public health challenge in the United States, affecting millions each year. According to the National Cancer Institute, in 2020, there were approximately 1.9 million new cancer cases and 608,570 cancer-related deaths. However, not all areas face the same cancer burden, as various factors, including environmental exposure, lifestyle choices, economic status, access to healthcare, and genetic predisposition, contribute to regional disparities.
Illinois Cancer Statistics
Illinois is one of the most populous states, with around 12.7 million residents in 2020. Unfortunately, it also experiences higher cancer rates compared to the national average. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois State Cancer Registry, in 2020, there were 77,660 new cancer cases and 25,250 cancer-related deaths.
The age-adjusted incidence rate for all cancers was 459.7 per 100,000 residents, exceeding the national rate of 442.3 per 100,000. The age-adjusted mortality rate for all cancers was 156.6 per 100,000, also higher than the national rate of 149.5 per 100,000.
The most commonly diagnosed cancers in Illinois in 2020 included breast (14,240 cases), lung and bronchus (12,910 cases), prostate (10,720 cases), colon and rectum (8,210 cases), and bladder (4,140 cases). The leading causes of cancer-related deaths in Illinois that year were lung and bronchus (9,300 deaths), colon and rectum (2,820 deaths), pancreas (2,280 deaths), breast (2,050 deaths), and liver and bile duct (1,720 deaths).
Cook County: The Highest Cancer Rates in Illinois
Cook County, the most populous county in Illinois with approximately 5.1 million residents in 2020, experiences the highest cancer rates in the state. In 2020, there were 30,610 new cancer cases and 10,040 cancer-related deaths in Cook County, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois State Cancer Registry.
The age-adjusted incidence rate for all cancers was 494.6 per 100,000 residents, significantly surpassing the state rate of 459.7 per 100,000. The age-adjusted mortality rate for all cancers was 162.8 per 100,000 residents, also notably higher than the state rate of 156.6 per 100,000.
The most commonly diagnosed cancers in Cook County in 2020 were breast (5,560 cases), lung and bronchus (5,020 cases), prostate (4,020 cases), colon and rectum (3,200 cases), and bladder (1,620 cases). Leading causes of cancer-related deaths in Cook County that year were lung and bronchus (3,640 deaths), colon and rectum (980 deaths), pancreas (880 deaths), breast (800 deaths), and liver and bile duct (680 deaths).
Why Does Cook County Have High Cancer Rates?
Several factors may contribute to Cook County’s elevated cancer rates compared to other counties in Illinois and the nation, including:
- Environmental factors: Cook County is home to Chicago, known for its industrial history and urban development, which may lead to environmental pollution and exposure to carcinogens like asbestos, radon, lead, benzene, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Additionally, many residents live near major highways or airports, increasing their exposure to traffic-related air and noise pollution.
- Lifestyle factors: Cook County has a high prevalence of smoking among adults (16.4%) and youth (10.9%). This is a significant risk factor for lung and other cancers. Additionally, a substantial percentage of adults in Cook County are obese (29.9%), physically inactive (23.9%), or engage in excessive alcohol consumption (19.4%), which are linked to higher risks of various cancers.
- Socioeconomic factors: Income inequality and poverty are prevalent in Cook County, limiting access to healthcare and preventive services like cancer screening, diagnosis, and treatment. Racial and ethnic diversity within the county may also contribute to differences in genetic susceptibility, cultural beliefs, and health behaviors.
- Healthcare factors: A significant number of Cook County residents lack health insurance or have inadequate coverage, making it challenging to access quality healthcare and cancer treatment. There is also a shortage of primary care physicians and oncologists, which hinders cancer prevention and care efforts.
Cook County faces higher cancer rates than both the state and national averages. These disparities can be attributed to a combination of environmental, lifestyle, socioeconomic, and healthcare factors affecting cancer risk and outcomes for its residents. Addressing these factors through collaborative efforts involving government agencies, healthcare providers, community organizations, researchers, and individuals is essential to reducing the cancer burden in Cook County. Implementing evidence-based strategies for cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment may improve the well-being of Cook County residents and reduce the overall cancer burden in the state.