February 22, 2019
Cancer Rates on the Rise in Rural Areas
Health News

Cancer Rates on the Rise in Rural Areas

by Susan Randel  

Does where you live have a bearing on whether you get cancer and survive the disease? According to a new report from the CDC, yes. It noted that in rural regions of the U.S., lung, colorectal, and cervical cancers are diagnosed at a higher rate than in urban areas. And although overall cancer deaths have declined steadily since 2006, the death rates from these cancers, as well as from prostate cancer, are declining more slowly in rural areas.

The report looked at county-level data from the CDC’s National Program of Cancer Registries and the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results; death information came from the CDC’s National Vital Statistics System.

The authors point to two factors that could explain the gap between urban and rural areas: lifestyle and access to screening. Lung cancer and oral cancers, for example, are both related to tobacco use, which is higher in rural areas. And while there are effective screening tests for colorectal and cervical cancers (as well as the PSA screening test for prostate cancer, though its use is more controversial), it appears that people in rural areas are less likely to get these screenings than those in urban areas. It’s unclear whether that’s due to the tests not being advised at doctor’s appointments on the recommended schedules (or at all), or to people in rural areas having a harder time accessing health care in the first place, the report noted.

Either way, the authors call for action to narrow the geographic cancer gap, including programs that offer free or low-cost screening to underserved populations for colorectal, cervical, and breast cancer, as well as vaccination against human papillomavirus (HPV), which helps prevent cervical cancer. (The CDC has several such initiatives underway already.) The authors also recommend giving state and local health departments more support to implement the CDC’s National Tobacco Control Program, which could help reduce current tobacco use and prevent use among younger people in rural areas.

Also see Racial Disparity in Cervical Cancer Deaths.