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Despite decreases in cancer death rates nationwide, a new report shows slower reduction in cancer death rates in rural America (a decrease of 1.0 percent per year) compared with urban America (a decrease of 1.6 percent per year), according to data released today in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The report is part of a series of MMWR studies on rural heath.

The report is the first complete description of cancer incidence and mortality in rural and urban America. Researchers found that rates of new cases for lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and cervical cancer were higher in rural America. In contrast, rural areas were found to have lower rates of new cancers of the female breast and prostate. Rural counties had higher death rates from lung, colorectal, prostate, and cervical cancers.

“While geography alone can’t predict your risk of cancer, it can impact prevention, diagnosis and treatment opportunities – and that’s a significant public health problem in the U.S.,” said CDC Acting Director Anne Schuchat, M.D. “Many cancer cases and deaths are preventable and with targeted public health efforts and interventions, we can close the growing cancer gap between rural and urban Americans.”

Key findings from analysis of cancer rates

  • Death rates were higher in rural areas (180 deaths per 100,000 persons) compared with urban areas (158 deaths per 100,000 persons). Cancer deaths in rural areas decreased at a slower pace, increasing the differences between rural and urban areas.
  • While overall cancer incidence rates were somewhat lower in rural areas (442 cases per 100,000 persons) than in urban areas (457 cases per 100,000 persons), incidence rates were higher in rural areas for several cancers, including those related to tobacco use such as lung cancer and those that can be prevented by cancer screening such as colorectal and cervical cancers.
  • While rural areas have lower incidence of cancer than urban areas, they have higher cancer death rates. The differences in death rates between rural and urban areas are increasing over time.

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