Cancer: Still the leading cause of death in Alaska



In 2017, the 10 top causes of death claimed the lives of 3,139 Alaskans and accounted for 76 percent of the 4,114 deaths across the state, according to the latest report from State of Alaska Vital Statistics Division.

Nine of the 10 leading causes of death were the same in 2017 as they were in 2016, and in 2008.

But the 10th leading cause of death in the state is now homicide, replacing influenza/pneumonia.

Compared to the United States as a whole, 8 of 10 of the leading causes of death were the same, but although in Alaska homicide is No. 10, it didn’t make the top 10 list nationwide.

The top 10 causes of death in Alaska are:

  • Cancer
  • Heart diseases
  • Accidents
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases
  • Suicide
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Liver and Cirrhosis
  • Homicide


The 2017 age-adjusted mortality rate from cancer dropped 25 percent since 2008 (136 versus 181 per 100,000).

Cancer was the second leading cause of death in the US but has decreased by 13.5 percent nationally since 2008.

In the last decade, age-adjusted rates of cancer:

  • Decreased the most in the Northern region of the state (47 percent).
  • Decreased by 6 percent in American Indian/Alaska Native people, 27 percent in white people and 43 percent in other race groups.
  • Decreased in both sexes by approximately 25 percent. Rates were consistently lower in Alaska females than Alaska males.
  • Decreased in all age groups; the largest decrease was in those age 65 and older.
  • The most frequent type of cancer mortality in Alaska was in the trachea, bronchus and lung; that has been consistence since 2008. This, even though smoking has declined in Alaska 28 percent between 1996 and 2016. Smoking among Alaska Natives is double that of non-Natives, 41 percent compared to 17 percent.


The mortality rate due to suicide was 27 per 100,000 in 2017, nearly twice the rate in the US (14). Suicide mortality rates increased in both the US (21 percent) and Alaska (12 percent) from 2008 to 2017. Three times as many men than women are successful in ending their lives in Alaska.

Suicide increased by 39 percent from 2008 to 2017 in Anchorage, the highest increase statewide. In 2017, Alaska Native people had a rate that was more than twice any other race group, and suicides have increased by 19 percent in this population from 2008 to 2017.


Chronic liver disease mortality rate in Alaska was 15 per 100,000 in 2017, an increase of 62 percent since 2008. The U.S. rate as a whole was 11 per 100,000 in 2017, an increase of 18.5 percent since 2008.


Homicide rates doubled from 2008 to 2017. The rate was similar in Alaska and the rest of the U.S. in 2008, but surpassed the US rate in 2015. A greater percentage of Alaska Natives died by homicide  than white Alaskans in all years from 2008 to 2017.

The homicide AA rate in Anchorage  increased by 359 percent from 2008 to 2017 (2.7 to 12.4 per 100,000).

The entire report is at this link.


  1. We all know environmental pollution such as Mercury and Arsenic can lead to Cancer, but researchers are now showing (through studies) that high protein diets (especially later in life) is linked to a higher chance of Cancer and early Death.
    I can only think this has some correlation to the high rates of Cancer and Heart Disease throughout Alaska.
    “A diet high in animal protein– such as milk, cheese and meat- doesn’t just increase cancer risk, but also early death risk in people less than 65 years of age, researchers found. In the study, meat-lovers were approximately 74 percent more likely to die early than people who stuck to a low-protein diet.”

    • Wow. I don’t entirely disagree as I do care about crap we should not be dumping into our environment. With that said though, guess I have hugely defied the odds. Albeit I take 10k iu’s Of d3 a day, work out daily, varying running, swimming, biking, hiking, skiing, etc wt training, and have my entire life (very active child), am lean and eat ‘close to the ground’. But absolutely not a vegan, not anything and have never dieted. Albeit I did spend 7 years trying to be vegetarian and that period was my most unhealthy time period in my life. My mouth has probably too many amalgam fillings I haven’t rushed to remove yet, but testing awhile back did not show any dangerous levels of heavy metals. BP low, bad cholesterol low, good cholesterol high, heart rate low. No health issues, rarely even get a cold. Eat cheese – lots of it, drink wine and beer, eat meat albeit in small quantities, eat lots of dark chocolate., snd salmon my favorite food. I guess point I’m making is although I do agree environment plays some part, diet and lifestyle bigger but vegan absolutely not the answer. Quality of what you eat is a variable though. Alaskans are chronically deficient in D3 – but not many supplement and should. D3 deficiency is linked to immune system function, brain chemistry balance, and cancer – as turd to immune system. Mercury and lead are certainly bad but not the primary source of our nations health issues. Obesity, diet, lack of exercise, stress, diabetes (result of afore mentioned) are biggest culprits. PS – don’t bring up anything about lucky genetics. My family history health problems are direct result of very bad lifestyle choices with cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart problems – of which I have none of as for most part I’ve lived differently. That is key to change. To eat meat or not is not nearly as critical as healthy weight, good overall nutrition and activity, and making sure normal levels of vitamin D. PSS I’m 60ish ?

  2. Maybe, Steve. But for any study that you throw out to the public there is another study that will contradict your studies of dietary assertions. Some docs believe that lots of eggs are good for you. I believe that the multiplicity of toxic agents in marijuana will give you cancer. Just as smoking cigarettes will give you cancer. Alcohol. Diet sodas. Etc. Etc. Cooking meat over an open flame. But making a general statement, such as yours, that meat and basic dairy may lead to cancer is a bit subjective without more decades of longitudinal data. Mankind has been eating meat and dairy for 10’s of thousands of years. Homo sapiens still rules the planet.

    Some say that the hippie cult generation from the 60’s and 70’s are the healthiest because they have subscribed more or less to what you have asserted about meat and dairy. Some of the aging hippies that I’ve seen (now in their late 60’s and 70’s) look like death warmed over. Some of them are so broken down at the joints that they can barely walk, even after living the so-called “natural” lifestyle.

    It really gets down to genetics, moderation, and anti-stress. Stress build-up, such as continually being worried about man-caused climate change, Trump, and the state budget probably affects overall health. We should have a study on whether Republicans/conservatives or Democrats/liberals age faster. THAT would be a great study and worthy of federal grant money. Don’t you agree, Steve?

    • Tim,
      I agree with much of what you said, especially the “links” to Alcohol, Stress, Genetics…
      You need to remember though this is about links to Cancer and obviously Cardiac disease as well.
      This is not a debate on who “ages faster” or who has bad joints, etc as that would be a separate issue with many causes from occupation & work related injuries to lifestyle choices and exercise habits, along with genetics as well.
      I had this debate a few years ago with a friend who chooses to eat a large amount of moose meat and animal protein (which I have done for many years as well)…he told me that the low fat game meat was not a concern.
      Sadly, about a year later this friend had a massive heart attack and was saved through a stint in his heart.
      Was it caused by years of eating red meat?
      Well, it is hard to isolate the cause but there are many studies that show correlation…along with smoking and stress.
      I do agree with your point on moderation as this seems key to maintaining a healthy balance through life…I would add clean water, clean air and plenty of exercise to maintain our health.
      Meditation can help with the stress of life, work, family, etc.
      I wish it was easier to put politics aside, but living in a state like Alaska with such a small private sector, I am afraid that is not very possible for anyone who cares about this place or has chosen to invest in calling AK “Home”.
      Thanks for your reply!

    • No problem, Steve. You do know that some of the end comments are meant to be moose tongue-in-cheek, and not to be strictly construed? lol. Good to hear from you.

  3. An understated cause of cancer is alcohol. It forms highly carcinogenic aldehydes in the liver. Is directly linked to 6 forms of cancer.
    Alcohol is causally linked to cirrhosis of liver.
    Alcohol is correlated to accidents (esp drownings), suicides, and homicides. No, I don’t know if the mental health researchers have distinguished whether alcoholism leads to suicide, for example, or if suicidal individuals are drawn to become alcoholics.
    I do know alcoholism is a cross cultural and multi generational tragedy. Which we ignore at peril to our own diminished quality of life.

  4. Also interesting to know, WebMD, others, also link heavy drinking to heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes.
    No it doesn’t cause everything on the list in the article. But knowing Alaska has an exceptionally high level of alcoholism, it is worth noting that the abuse of alcohol may also be reflected across several categories of mortality. While, yes I should exercise more, etc. I suspect alcohol has far more deleterious links to morbidity than environmental conditions on this metal rich planet.

  5. Good grief. Ok I’ve read all above. Balance is key. Anything in excess can have bad consequences be it sugar, animal protein, alcohol, food in general, even drinking water for heavens sake. I would say one of biggest issues for Alaskans that is related to immune system, mental health, cardiovascular, cancer is vitamin D which we are chronically deficient. Ample studies done and you can do your own research. Hence I would advise everything in moderation, exercise, and supplement with D3. You can get your levels tested with simple blood test.

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