U.Va. Study: Cancer Diagnoses Will Rise as Population Ages

April 21, 2015

Cancer is a leading cause of death in Virginia and researchers at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service project that the rate of growth in new cancer cases will far outpace the growth of the population in the next 25 years, due to the overall aging of the population.

The greatest number of new cancer diagnoses is projected in the major metropolitan areas, where most Virginians live. But rural localities with a larger share of older residents will experience the highest local cancer burden by having a higher proportion of their populations diagnosed with cancer over the next three decades.  

This finding and others related to cancer projections across Virginia are detailed in a Census Brief released today, the sixth in a series of short publications depicting trends in census and other data of interest to the commonwealth.

“Age is an established factor in cancer,” said Shonel Sen, a research and policy analyst at the Cooper Center’s Demographics Research Group who worked on the projections. “Nearly 80 percent of cancers occur among the population ages 55 and over. As Virginia’s population grows bigger and, more importantly, older, we anticipate cancer cases to be on the rise.”

Using carefully developed population projections for the commonwealth and its localities, and known rates of cancer diagnosis by age from the Virginia Cancer Registry, the Demographics Research Group prepared projections for the number of new cases of breast (in females), prostate (in males) and lung cancers, as well as a combined category called “all cancers” for each decade through 2040.

“We developed these projections to complement the leading work underway at the University of Virginia Cancer Center in cancer control and population health statistics,” said Qian Cai, director of the Demographics Research Group. “Employing our knowledge about Virginia demographics and expertise in population estimates and projections, we are able to develop credible forecasts of cancer incidence at state and regional levels.”

Pending funding, the Demographics Research Group will develop additional projections for Virginia of incidence of other cancer types, and of deaths from cancer over the three decades in this report. In addition, three-decade projections of cancer incidence and deaths for the nation overall and for the 50 states can be developed, if funding is available.

“We believe that these projections will be helpful to health care providers, insurance companies and state and local governments, as well as informing the citizens of the commonwealth about this disease that impacts the lives of so many individuals and their families,” Cai said. “Data such as this for cancer, and for other diseases, are valuable in anticipating demand for services.”

The Census Brief, data tables, and other resources are available here.

Media Contact

Meredith Gunter

Outreach Director Demographics Research Group, Weldon Cooper Center