Overall cancer death rates have decreased across the U.S. but are higher in rural parts of the country than in urban areas, according to a CDC report released today. It's the agency's first complete description of cancer in rural and urban America.

The takeaway: Death rates from cancer are higher in rural areas than urban ones but the incidence of new cases is lower in rural parts of the country.

"Differences between nonmetropolitan and metropolitan counties in cancer incidence might reflect differences in risk factors such as cigarette smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity, whereas differences in cancer death rates might reflect disparities in access to health care and timely diagnosis and treatment," the authors wrote.

The details:

  • Death rates from cancer were 180 deaths per 100,000 people in rural areas v. 158 per 100,000 in urban centers.
  • New cases of cancer: overall the rates were slightly lower in rural areas (442 cases per 100,000 people v. 457 cases in urban areas)
  • But... Rural America has higher rates of new cases and deaths from lung cancer and other types related to smoking and tobacco use. The incidences of colorectal and cervical cancers — which can largely be prevented by screening — are also higher.
  • Rural risk factors: smoking, obesity, lack of exercise and limited access to health care for diagnosis and treatment, per the report.

Context: The CDC reported earlier this year that life expectancy has declined for Americans living in rural regions (about 15% of the population) and people living in these areas are more likely to die from the top five causes of death (heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease and stroke) than people in metropolitan areas.

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