The CDC’s researchers say that smoking may be partly to blame since many of the cancers that people in rural areas are dying from are related to tobacco use.
But a disturbing new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that rural living comes with a scary side effect: A higher risk of dying from certain forms of cancer.
According to the report, which pulled data from 2006 to 2015, overall cancer deaths are falling in the U.S., but the numbers are higher and falling at a slower pace in rural areas. Specifically, there are 180 deaths for every 100,000 people who live in the country compared to 158 per 100,000 people in urban areas.
Even more bizarre: Cancer rates are slightly lower in rural areas—there are 442 cases per 100,000 compared to 457 per 100,000 for their urban-living counterparts—but, again, more people are dying of cancer in these areas. The CDC specifically cited lung, colorectal, prostate, and cervical cancers as the biggest issues for people in rural areas.
What’s going on here? The CDC’s researchers say that smoking may be partly to blame since many of the cancers that people in rural areas are dying from are related to tobacco use. Study authors pointed out that people in rural counties had "higher incidence of and deaths from cancers related to tobacco use."
Preventative care may also be a factor—people in rural areas are more likely to die of cancers that can be prevented by screening, the CDC points out, and it’s possible that people who live in rural areas have less access to good preventative services. As a result, they may be diagnosed at a later, less treatable stage of cancer, which can ultimately lead to death.
Obesity and physical inactivity, which are known risk factors for cancer that are also more prevalent in rural areas, could also be at play, the CDC says. And, of course, the ability to get good, timely treatment—which can be tricky if you live in a remote area—matters as well.
The CDC points out that many of these cancer cases and deaths are preventable, which is why they urge people to get screened for colorectal, breast, and cervical cancers, and screened for lung cancer if they fall into a high-risk group, like smokers. The organization also recommends getting vaccinated against human papillomavirus and hepatitis B virus, which are known to be linked to cancer.
If you live in a rural area, make sure to maintain routine checkups and screenings, and communicate with your medical team about your cancer risk. It may take a little more time and effort, but ultimately your health is worth it.