Cancer by zip code: What does it tell us?

What does your zip code tell you about cancer rates?


Does where you live relate to your risk of cancer?  How would we know?  When a diagnosis of cancer is made, part of the information gathered includes the zip code where the patient lives.  But, that may be difficult to interpret.

That information is collected for several types of cancer, and the number of cases is compared to the number that would be expected among the people who live there.

For instance, within the city of Buffalo, Zip codes 14204 through 14210  have more cases of lung cancer in both men and women than you would expect.  But that’s not true for colon cancer.

In zip code 14217, men have higher than expected colon cancer, but women have fewer than expected.

But zip codes don’t tell us enough.

“Smoking, alcohol consumption, obesity are not adjusted for in these data.  So those are factors that have been shown repeatedly to be risk factors for certain cancers” according to Roswell Park’s Dr. James Marshall.  “So these numbers are awfully imprecise and I would want to be awfully careful about putting much stock in them.”

So how you live is more important than where you live.

Dr. Marshall also said, “It’s important that we look at these data, but as they are , they don’t tell us a great deal about cancer risk, and the differences are not large enough that I would move out of one zip code into another one.”

There are some well- known environmental risks, such as radon, which you can do something about and you can lower almost all your risks for cancer except heredity and age.  The differences that we measure according to zip codes don’t really help us prevent cancer.

If you are wondering about social and economic factors influencing cancer.. Wealthier people tend to have more screening, so their cancers may be discovered in greater numbers- and sooner, which means more likely cure.  But the real answer is prevention – and we all know the risk factors. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review. Note: Comments containing links are not allowed.

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