Understanding Mortality Rate Disparities Will Boost Cancer Prevention Efforts

Beth Fand Incollingo

CANCER DEATH RATES HAVE dropped substantially except in small pockets of the U.S., where they have risen dramatically, a recent study showed. A look at differences in areas with dropping versus rising rates offers insights about how to prevent the disease, researchers said.

Key issues affecting cancer rates, they found, were socioeconomic status, access to health care, the quality of the health care available and the prevalence of risk factors, such as obesity, smoking and lack of exercise. The findings, conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and then discussed in an article in Cancer Currents, the National Cancer Institute’s blog.

American cancer deaths dropped by 20 percent between 1980 and 2014, the study found. However, in 160 out of the country’s approximately 3,000 counties, cancer deaths rose substantially during the same period. For example, in 2014, the county with the highest overall cancer death rate recorded about seven times as many cancer deaths per 100,000 residents as the county with the lowest overall rate, Cancer Currents reported.

The researchers found that there were about 240 cancer deaths per 100,000 people in 1980, compared with 192 cancer deaths per 100,000 in 2014. But where disparities existed, the divide grew over time. In 1980, Summit County, Colorado, with the lowest mortality rate, saw about 130 deaths per 100,000, while the highest recorded rate, in North Slope Borough, Alaska, was 380 per 100,000. By 2014, the two counties with the lowest and highest overall cancer mortality rates — Summit County, Colorado, and Union County, Florida — saw 70 versus 500 cancer deaths per 100,000 people, respectively. Areas with high mortality rates were found in states including Kentucky, West Virginia, Alabama and Alaska.

Ideally, the study will prompt those counties to implement public health programs designed to reduce cancer death rates, the researchers suggested.
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