This Rhode Island City Has Been Named the Highest Cancer Rates in the State

Rhode Island, despite its small size, grapples with a substantial issue: cancer. According to the most recent data from the Rhode Island Cancer Registry (RICR), the state reports one of the highest cancer incidence rates in the country, standing at 463.3 cases per 100,000 individuals. However, this challenge is not evenly distributed across the state, as one city, in particular, emerges as having the highest cancer rates: Providence.

Providence: The Cancer Capital of Rhode Island

Providence, the capital and most populous city of Rhode Island, boasted an estimated population of 179,270 as of 2020. Alarmingly, it also holds the record for the highest cancer incidence rate within the state, reporting 538.7 cases per 100,000 residents. This means that Providence sees approximately 16% more cancer cases than the state’s average and around 22% more than the national average.

Providence contends with elevated cancer rates for both males and females, spanning various types of cancer. The most prevalent cancers in Providence encompass lung and bronchus, breast (among females), prostate (among males), colon and rectum, and bladder. These five cancers account for over half of all cancer cases in the city.

The following table outlines the age-adjusted incidence rates of these cancers in Providence in comparison to Rhode Island and the United States:


Cancer Site Providence Rate Rhode Island Rate USA Rate
Lung & Bronchus 82.9 63.9 54.0
Breast (Female) 161.8 139.9 127.0
Prostate (Male) 137.4 114.2 110.5
Colon & Rectum 38.6 32.5 36.5
Bladder 31.6 24.5 18.9

What Causes High Cancer Rates in Providence?

Identifying the precise causes of high cancer rates in Providence is a complex task, as cancer’s development can be influenced by multiple factors, including genetics, lifestyle choices, environmental conditions, and healthcare accessibility. Nevertheless, potential explanations include:

Smoking: Smoking ranks as the primary contributor to lung cancer and increases the risk of various other cancers. The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) indicates that 17.4% of adults in Providence reported current smoking in 2019, surpassing the 14.4% rate in Rhode Island and 13.7% in the United States.

Obesity: Obesity correlates with an increased risk of several cancers, including breast, colon, rectum, and kidney cancers. According to the BRFSS, 30.8% of adults in Providence were obese in 2019, exceeding the rates of 28.7% in Rhode Island and 30.9% in the United States.

Poverty: Poverty can hinder access to preventive healthcare services such as screenings and vaccinations, impacting dietary choices and physical activity. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 23.8% of Providence’s population lived below the poverty level in 2019, notably higher than the 12.8% in Rhode Island and 12.3% in the United States.

Race/Ethnicity: Cancer risk can vary due to genetic variations, cultural factors, and social disparities linked to race and ethnicity. RICR data show that non-Hispanic blacks had the highest cancer incidence rate in Rhode Island (480.1 per 100,000), followed by non-Hispanic whites (473.1), Hispanics (411.2), and Asians/Pacific Islanders (307.0). Providence exhibited a diverse demographic composition in 2019, with 43.8% Hispanic or Latino, 37.6% white alone (not Hispanic or Latino), 15.5% black or African American alone, and 6.4% Asian alone.

How to Prevent and Control Cancer in Providence?

Efforts to reduce the cancer burden in Providence and enhance residents’ health and quality of life necessitate the following actions:

Quit smoking or avoid exposure to secondhand smoke: Smoking cessation significantly reduces the risk of lung and other cancers. Resources like “QuitNowRI,” a free telephone counseling service offering nicotine replacement therapy and support, are available to help individuals quit smoking.

Maintain a healthy weight and engage in physical activity: Preventing and managing obesity can lower the risk of various cancers. Physical activity can also contribute to cancer prevention and control by enhancing immune function, hormone levels, and metabolism. The “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans” recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week, coupled with muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days per week.

Adopt a healthy diet: A well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help prevent and manage cancer by providing essential nutrients like antioxidants and fiber that protect against DNA damage and inflammation. The “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” advise limiting the intake of added sugars, saturated fats, trans fats, sodium, and alcohol.

Undergo cancer screenings: Early detection through cancer screening significantly improves the prospects of successful treatment and recovery. The “U.S. Preventive Services Task Force” offers evidence-based recommendations for various cancer screening tests, such as mammography for breast cancer, colonoscopy for colorectal cancer, and low-dose computed tomography for lung cancer (for high-risk individuals).

Vaccination against cancer-causing infections: Vaccinations can prevent certain cancers caused by infectious agents, such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B virus (HBV). The “Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices” recommends HPV vaccination for all children aged 11-12 years and HBV vaccination for all infants at birth and for adults at risk.

In Conclusion:

While Providence faces a significant cancer burden, it also possesses the potential for effective cancer prevention and control. By implementing interventions and policies that address modifiable risk factors and social determinants of cancer, Providence can reduce its cancer rates and enhance the health outcomes of its residents. As stated by the RICR, “Together we can make a difference in the fight against cancer.”

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