Environmental Public Health Tracking: Cancer Data

Cancer is a term used for diseases where abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues. Cancer is not just one disease, but many diseases. There are more than 100 different types of cancer.

Access the cancer data

The Wisconsin Tracking Program hosts data on 14 different types of cancer. Learn more about these types of cancer by clicking the links below:

Young pair of hands holding an older pair of hands

Interested in environmental health data?

Join the environmental health listserv by sending an email to DHS Environmental Public Health Tracking with the subject line "Join envhealth listserv."


In the section below, there are frequently asked questions about cancer in general.  On each specific cancer's page, there are frequently asked questions about that type of cancer.

What is cancer?

Cancer begins in cells, the building blocks that make up tissues. Tissues make up many parts of the body. When new cells form that the body doesn't need and old or damaged cells don't die as they should, the cells form a mass of tissue called a lump, growth, or tumor.

Tumors in the body can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). Benign tumors are not as harmful as malignant tumors. The benign tumors can often be removed and usually don't grow back or spread to other parts of the body. The malignant tumors may be life-threatening and can often be removed but sometimes grow back. These tumors can invade and damage nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body.

Learn more about cancer on the Cancer Facts and Cancer Clusters web page.

How is cancer related to the environment?

There is evidence of a link between cancer and environmental pollutants. Coming in contact with some things that cause cancer is potentially avoidable. For example, tobacco smoking can be avoided with behavioral changes.

Although environmental pollution has been a source of public concern for decades, there have only been a few well-studied cases of environmental exposures at the community-level. The cancer risks associated with many environmental chemicals are based on studies in the workplace, where exposures are often much greater than they would be in the general public. These earlier studies provide the foundation for building evidence that supports a link between cancers and exposures to environmental pollutants.

Other environmental factors are less controllable, such as cancer-causing materials released into the air. Some risk factors are unavoidable, such as age, race, or genetics. It is important to remember having a risk factor increases the chances a person will develop cancer, it does not mean the individual will for sure develop cancer.  Many people who develop cancer do not have many or any of the currently known risk factors.

What is the data source?

The portal provides data from the Wisconsin Cancer Reporting System, which is maintained by the Office of Health Informatics, Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Which measures does Wisconsin Tracking have for cancer?

The Wisconsin Environmental Public Health Tracking Program is examining cancers that were selected by a national workgroup based on the following criteria:

  • Scientific basis for environmental risk factors
  • Geographic variability or temporal trend in cancer incidence
  • Short latency cancer
  • Attributable risk
  • Feasibility of obtaining relevant environmental data
  • Possibility of public health or environmental intervention
  • Frequency (incidence rate)

The Wisconsin Tracking portal contains data on the following cancers:

  • Bladder
  • Brain and Central Nervous System
  • Breast
  • Esophageal
  • Kidney and Renal
  • Laryngeal
  • Liver
  • Leukemia
  • Lung
  • Melanoma
  • Mesothelioma
  • Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
  • Oral Cavity and Pharyngeal
  • Pancreatic
  • Thyroid

For each type of cancer, users are able to view counts and the age-adjusted rate.

What are some considerations for interpreting the data?

  • Reporting may be less complete from rural areas of the state.
  • Reporting may be less complete for cases where diagnosis and/or treatment occurs in a border state (such as those treated in Minnesota, Illinois, or Iowa).
  • Reporting completeness is different depending on the type of cancer.
  • Data users should keep in mind that many factors contribute to a disease.  These factors should be considered when interpreting the data.  Factors include:
    • Demographics (race, gender, age)
    • Socioeconomic status (income level, education)
    • Geography (rural, urban)
    • Changes in the medical field (diagnosis patterns, reporting requirements)
    • Individual behavior (diet, smoking)

Where can I learn more about cancer?

Last Revised: September 14, 2020