Highest US death rates from cancer found in rural South, analysis says

In a new study of cancer deaths in the United States, researchers at the Texas A&M School of Public Health find mortality rates are highest in the south and lowest in the west, with the highest mortality rates typically seen in the rural south.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. Prior research has found rates of cancer diagnosis and mortality vary between rural and urban areas, though the exact nature of geography’s effects on cancer mortality is still incomplete

In a policy brief from the school’s Southwest Rural Health Research Center, researchers led by Timothy Callaghan, assistant professor, Department of Health Policy and Management, build on prior work to study differences in mortality from common cancers—breast, lung, cervical, prostate and colon—across levels of rurality in the United States.

To accomplish this, Callaghan and his research team analyzed data on cancer mortality from 1999 to 2016 from the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This data included information on cause of death as well as demographic and geographic factors, such as rural or urban status.

The team included School of Public Health colleagues Alva O. Ferdinand, assistant professor, Department of Health and Policy Management; Jane N. Bolin, professor and director of the Southwest Rural Health Research Center; and graduate students Marvellous Akinlotan, Kristi Primm, and Samuel Towne.

Their analysis found a striking difference in cancer mortality across levels of rurality and cancer type. When analyzing lung cancer, prostate cancer and colon cancer, they found higher mortality rates in rural areas than in urban areas.

Discrepancies between rural and urban areas were particularly large for lung cancer. When analyzing breast cancer and cervical cancer, on the other hand, mortality rates were higher in large central metro (urban) areas than in rural areas in the country.

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