Cancer Mortality Rates in South Carolina Declining, but Disparities Remain

Gerald Wilson, MD

A 20-year study of cancer trends in South Carolina reveals that cancer mortality rates in the state are declining, yet significant health disparities exist among minority populations and in rural communities.

The data in the report, released by the South Carolina Cancer Alliance and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, compiles data from the South Carolina Central Cancer Registry (SCCCR). The registry is the state’s population-based cancer surveillance system that collects, processes, analyzes, interprets, and disseminates cancer incidence (newly diagnosed cases) and cancer mortality (deaths due to cancer). DHEC’s Division of Vital Statistics provides information on cancer mortality to the SCCCR. 

“We are moving in the right direction for a state our size, but we are still behind the rest of the country,” said Dr. Gerald Wilson, chair of the South Carolina Cancer Alliance. “The best course of action people can take is to speak with their doctors about cancer screenings and lifestyle changes.”

On average in South Carolina, more than 26,000 people are diagnosed with invasive cancer and nearly 10,000 people die from the disease each year. 

Among the key findings of the report:

  • The overall age-adjusted cancer incidence rate in South Carolina is down 3.1 percent.
  • The cancer incidence rate in males remains higher than in females, but male incidence rates are down by 12.6 percent.
  • The cancer incidence rate in females increased 5.5 percent. 
  • Disparities in black males and females are higher than white males and females. 
  • The age-adjusted cancer mortality rate in South Carolina decreased 17.6 percent, with double digit decreases among all races and both genders.

Cancer specialists contribute the decreases in cancer mortality rates to primary prevention strategies such as decreasing the prevalence of smoking, early detection and improved cancer treatments. 

The five key cancers addressed in the report are lung cancer, colorectal cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer and melanoma of the skin. Data specific to each cancer demonstrates:

  • The leading cause of cancer death in South Carolina is lung cancer, which is also the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the state. 
  • There are strong downward trends in colorectal cancer rates, but screening is critical to prevention and early detection. 
  • Screening and improved treatments have enhanced survival and reduced mortality for female breast cancer, but large racial disparities in breast cancer mortality rates persist.
  • Prostate cancer shows strong downward trends but is still the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men in South Carolina and the fifth most common cause of cancer deaths in South Carolina. 
  • Melanoma of the skin is the fifth most common cancer diagnosed in South Carolina. The increases of 21.2 percent among white males and 24.6 percent among white females mirror national trends.

The South Carolina Cancer Alliance has produced materials to guide patients in talking to their physicians about cancer screenings and lifestyle changes they should make to improve their health. Email [email protected] for more information.

To view the full cancer report, visit

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