In the latest edition of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) Rural Health Series, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) examined reported data in the United States to compare rates of incidence and death from cancer in rural and metropolitan areas. The findings show that nonmetropolitan rural areas had lower incidence of cancer but higher rates of death than metropolitan areas.
But not all cancers are the same and geography can play a role in their incidence. Overall, nonmetropolitan counties had higher incidence and death rates for cancers related to smoking, e.g., lung and laryngeal cancers, and those that can be prevented by screening, such as colorectal and cervical cancers.
The CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System collects data about health-related risk behaviors across the United States and the data there indicates that some risk factors such as tobacco use, excessive body weight, and exposure to cancer-causing agents more commonly reported by rural residents could account for some of the disparities between rural and metropolitan cancer death rates.
Evidence-based interventions – that is, addressing the problem in ways that have been proven effective – can be used to reduce risk factors at both the individual level and the population level. The report points to some of these interventions in The Guide to Community Preventive Services. For rural-specific guidance, our office recommends resources available at the Rural Health Information Hub.
Researchers indicate that some disparities may be attributed to lack of cancer screening in rural areas, whether testing and follow-up care are unavailable in medically underserved areas or only accessible through health insurance. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends cancer screening as an important aspect of cancer prevention and control because it can detect cancer at treatable stages.