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Cancer is a problem everywhere, but it’s worse in Philadelphia than in most other parts of the metro area, the state and similar big cities. An average of just more than 8,200 residents of Philadelphia county were diagnosed with cancer annually from 2007-11, the most recent year for which data is available from the National Cancer Institute. Its age-adjusted annual incidence rate of 541.6 per 100,000 people is about 15 percent higher than the national average.

Any number of factors can contribute to cancer, from genetics to environmental carcinogens to smoking, the latter being a particularly large problem for Philadelphia. Here are eight maps and charts illustrating Philadelphia’s high cancer rate.

In Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania as a state has a higher annual cancer rate than the national average, with 494.8 incidences per year per 100,000 people.


Of the 67 Pennsylvania counties, Philadelphia ranks second in incidence rates.

In the metro area

It’s not just Philadelphia County that has a high cancer incidence rate; the adjacent counties do too. The below counties generally considered to be part of the Philly metro area have rates higher than the national average, with Gloucester County even topping Philly’s rate.

In the United States

Most of the counties featuring America’s 10 biggest cities have cancer rates below the national average. New York County, Cook County (Chicago) and Philadelphia County are the only three with cancer rates above the average, and Philadelphia’s annual incidence rate is more than 11 percent higher than each of their rates. 

For childhood cancer, though, Philadelphia has the lowest incidence rate of America’s 10 biggest cities and is well below the national average.

One likely reason why cancer rates are so high in Philadelphia: Smoking. Lung cancer is the most common form of cancer here, and 25 percent of the population smokes in Philadelphia, the highest percentage among America’s 10 biggest cities. None of those other cities have a rate of higher than 20 percent.

In 2011, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health listed 2,297 people as having died from tobacco use (16 percent of all deaths in the city). It also found lung cancer to be the sixth-leading cause of life years lost in Philadelphia. Here are the other top five causes, per the Department of Public Health’s list.

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Though lung cancer is clearly still a disproportionately large problem for Philadelphia compared to most other cities, the mortality rate has at least been going down. In 2000, the rate for Philadelphia was 70.4 percent. By 2011, the latest year for which the city’s Department of Public Health had data, the mortality rate was 57.9 percent.

In the neighborhoods 

Though the Department of Public Health doesn’t keep track of data for cancer incidence in different areas of the city, it does have data for mortality rates for cancer, as seen in the Department’s map below. The highest mortality rate, according to the 2011 data, was in Lower North Philadelphia, with areas like the River Wards and Southwest Philly not far behind.

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Mark Dent is a reporter/curator at BillyPenn. He previously worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he covered the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Penn State football and the Penn State administration. His...