No one likes to think about getting sick, but prevention requires our attention. Studies have found that although cancer rates are decreasing overall, certain areas of the U.S. are seeing a surge in cancer-related losses. In some cases, death rates are 20 times higher from one state to another. What could be causing such sharp differences within our country?
Are you at risk?
Countless factors go into a person’s risk of developing cancer, and new information strongly suggests that geographical location is one of them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that people who live in rural areas are more likely to develop cancer compared with those living in metropolitan areas. Scientists already know that lifestyle factors, including diet and obesity, play into an increased cancer risk. But a new study titled “Trends and patterns of disparities in cancer mortality among US counties, 1980-2014” confirms that some areas are more cancer prone than others. No one knows exactly why this is, but doctors have some ideas. The study concludes that a combination of lifestyle factors and lack of health care in rural areas are the culprits.
Those Left Out
You might already know that lung cancer is the deadliest form of the disease in the U.S. But it’s astounding to learn that certain areas, like Union County, Florida, experience as many as 231 deaths per 100,000 residents a year. Compare that to the town with the lowest rate of deaths from lung cancer, Summit County, Colorado, in which there are only 11 deaths per 100,000 people a year. That’s a disparity of more than 2,000 percent. The “Trends and patterns” study found that breast cancer fatalities were highest along the Mississippi River. Lung cancer rates are highest in Southern states such as Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, and Alabama. The Mississippi River area also shows high rates of kidney cancer.
What’s the solution?
This isn’t an isolated issue. Similar numbers can be seen in more than 3,000 U.S. counties. Doctors believe that those in more rural areas are being left in the dust when it comes to health education, preventive care, and access to cancer-detection facilities. “Such significant disparities among US counties is unacceptable,” said Dr. Ali Mokdad, the study’s lead author. “Every person should have access to early screenings for cancer, as well as adequate treatment.” Rural residents have more difficulties accessing health care; sometimes it’s simply not available where they live. Lack of public transportation, longer distances to clinics, and fewer health care providers are just some of the barriers that rural patients must contend with. “Even though rural communities contain about 20 percent of America’s population, less than 10 percent of physicians practice in these communities,” according to a study conducted by Roger A. Rosenblatt and L. Gary Hart. This makes timely access to preventive or emergency care difficult for rural residents. There are a few rural healthcare models in place in an attempted fix, but there’s no single solution to this problem. As the new data show, though, it’s time to do something.