Cancer in Minnesota

Cancer is the leading cause of death in Minnesota

Cancer is a group of diseases that share the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells. It is classified by where it originates in the body, its appearance under a microscope, and laboratory tests.

Nearly half of all Minnesotans will be diagnosed with a potentially serious cancer during their lifetimes. Although the cancer mortality rate has decreased by nearly 15% in Minnesota over the past 20 years, one out of four Minnesotans die of cancer. Cancer is the leading cause of death in the state.

Tobacco: the leading single cause of cancer

Tobacco is responsible for 30% of cancer deaths. Important risk factors are diet, obesity, alcohol consumption and a lack of physical activity. Other established risk factors include specific infections, use of certain medications, some occupational exposures, some chemical exposures, radiation, radon, and reproductive and hormonal factors (such as estrogen exposure). Genetics play a strong role in some cancers and may play some role for most cancers.

You can reduce your risk of cancer

Many cancers may be preventable. Not smoking is the single biggest step you can take to reduce your risk of developing cancer. Since different cancers often have different risk factors, prevention strategies for one cancer may not apply to another type. The following prevention strategies reduce the risk of developing or dying from cancer:

  • Healthy behaviors: Avoid tobacco products, maintain a healthy diet and weight, exercise regularly, and avoid excessive sun exposure. These behavioral risk factors are estimated to account for two-thirds of cancer deaths. Avoid exposure to sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV, human papillomavirus (HPV), or hepatitis B virus; some sexually transmitted infections can cause cancer (e.g. cervical or liver cancer).
  • Get screened for cancer: Being screened at the recommended ages and intervals can reduce mortality for breast cancer, cervical cancer, and colorectal cancer by finding cancers early, when treatment is more effective. Screening tests for colorectal and cervical cancer can actually prevent cancer by finding abnormal cells before they become cancerous. Screening for breast cancer will not prevent the cancer, but early detection improves survival.
  • Vaccinations: Hepatitis B virus and HPV vaccines as well as treatment for certain infections are effective prevention measures for specific types of cancers (e.g., liver or cervical cancers).
  • Occupational health and safety: Workplace reduction to known carcinogens especially in some manufacturing situations may play a role in reducing cancer.
  • Radon mitigation: Reducing radon concentrations in the home, if needed, may reduce risk for lung cancer, especially in Minnesota where radon levels tend to be higher than average.

What is being done about cancer?

  • The Minnesota Cancer Surveillance System (MCSS) at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has taken the lead in tracking cancer incidence in Minnesota since it was implemented in 1988. MCSS collaborates with the Minnesota Cancer Alliance and the American Cancer Society Midwest Division to produce Minnesota Cancer Facts and Figures every two years.
  • The Minnesota Cancer Alliance is a coalition of more than 100 public and private health organizations, community groups and volunteers founded in 2005. It is supported by the Comprehensive Cancer Control Program at MDH. The Alliance collaborates to develop and implement the statewide cancer control plan, with a focus on policy, systems, and environmental changes that will provide a foundation for long-lasting and sustainable population-wide change.
  • Cancer Plan Minnesota 2025 is a framework for action that invites everyone to get involved in reducing the burden of cancer and promoting health equity. It challenges organizations and individuals in every sector and every region of the state to step up, work together and make a difference for all Minnesotans. Five overarching goals have guided the MN Cancer Alliance since its founding in 2005. They continue to guide the current work and provide and organizing structure for this plan.1) prevent cancer from occurring, 2) detect cancer at its earliest stages, 3) treat all cancer patients with the most appropriate and effective therapy, 4) optimize the quality of life for every person affected by cancer, and 5) eliminate disparities in the burden of cancer. 
  • The American Cancer Society (ACS) is the nation's leading organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem. The national ACS report Cancer Facts & Figures provides cancer incidence, mortality and survival statistics for the U.S.
  • The Sage Screening Program at MDH is a statewide comprehensive breast and cervical cancer screening program that aims to increase the proportion of eligible women screened for these cancers through free screening, education, raising awareness, and developing statewide partnerships to promote screening. Sage Scopes is a program that offers free colorectal cancer screening and free colonoscopies for eligible men and women in Minnesota, and has launched a billboard campaign to encourage colorectal cancer screening.
  • The mission of the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program at MDH is to improve the health of Minnesotans by promoting the reduction of tobacco use. 
  • The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) monitors ambient levels of air pollutants, including potential cancer-causing agents(such as benzene). MPCA and MDH both work together to protect human health and the environment from substances released into the air, water, and soil.