CDC investigates the rural vs. urban divide in cancer-related deaths
In July 2017, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) announced a new report which discovered that rural parts of the United States are seeing a slower decline in cancer-related deaths than urban parts of the US.
Although cancer cases have been decreasing overall across the nation, death rates (the number of people dying from a particular disease at a certain time) are higher in rural communities. This is causing an evident divide between cancer outcomes in these two geographical areas throughout the US.
Additionally, rural counties still have higher incidence rates for specific cancers; primarily tobacco-related cancers (i.e. lung cancer) and cancers that can be prevented through screening (i.e. colorectal and cervical).
Barriers to cancer care in rural communities
The CDC states that geography alone cannot predict cancer risk, however it can determine the course of prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Oftentimes, barriers such as a lack of access to healthcare and transportation could hinder care and could affect cancer outcomes.
Andi Dwyer, Fight CRC’s director of health promotion, knows all too well the challenges that cancer patients living in rural settings face when it comes to healthcare access. Dwyer’s passion for addressing rural health issues and underserved populations stems from her own experience growing up in the rural town of Cheyenne Wells, Colorado.
Cheyenne Wells, situated in eastern Colorado has a population of approximately 1000 residents, equating to barely one person per square mile. As the county seat, Cheyenne Wells has a critical access hospital, but despite this, those battling diseases such as cancer still face daily challenges.
According to Honey Richardson, a Cheyenne Wells resident and a stage III colorectal survivor, proximity to treatment has been an additional issue she has faced on top of battling cancer.
“It really is a shame we can’t access treatment out here. It is an additional hardship to have to drive 6 hours round trip on top of the 6 hours spent in the treatment center. It makes for a very long day.”
Gerald Keefe, the Board Chair at Keefe Memorial Hospital in Cheyenne Wells, Colorado notes that this has been an issue for other patients as well.
“While rural providers and caregivers have become much more skilled at diagnosing a wide variety of cancer situations in their patients, access to treatment centers remains extremely limited in these settings.”
A positive outlook
There are some advantages to living in rural areas. When it comes to incidence rates of cancer (the number of new cases of a particular disease), there are less new cases of overall cancer in rural counties than urban counties. Additionally, it seems there are often overlooked resources that help cancer patients along the continuum, such as community support.
“I have so many people wanting to be my “chemo buddy” that I actually have a waiting list! As you know, that’s the best part of living in a small rural community- everyone is family and is there when the chips are down.”
Oftentimes, having a support system is just as important as receiving quality care. In addition to having strong community support, there are many proactive approaches to take that may contribute to closing the gap between cancer cases and death rates between rural and urban counties.
Some of these strategies include boosting education and prevention strategies in the following areas:
- Tobacco cessation, halting tobacco initiation
- Engaging in physical activity and healthy eating habits
- Getting vaccinated against HPV
- Getting cancer screenings such as colonoscopies and Pap smears
Keefe adds that “rural individuals by nature often delay seeking immediate medical attention for various health-related issues, thus the need for cancer-related education is paramount for rural communities.”
It is possible to improve cancer-related deaths throughout rural communities, but it will take a concerted effort between physicians, patients and their support systems to do so.
For more information on the rural vs. urban divide, check out the CDC report: https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p0706-rural-cancer-deaths.html
**The Colorado Colorectal Screening Program is conducting a targeted outreach campaign in eastern Colorado and the Arkansas and San Luis valley to increase colorectal cancer screening rates. If you live in the area, text ENDCANCER to 21333 or click HERE to learn about the benefits of colon cancer screening and how it could save your life or the lives of your loved one.
Fight Colorectal Cancer offers several online resources in our resource library that can be accessed regardless of where you live, and our toll-free resource line can be reached at 1-877-427-2111.