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Colon Cancer Deaths Still High in Southern U.S.

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The number of colorectal cancer deaths continues to decline in the United States, thanks to more people getting screened. However, not all Americans share equally in the good news.

Colorectal cancer morality rates are falling in the northern U.S. while the southern states lag behind, according to a new report published online in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Decrease in death rates ranged from about 37 percent in Massachusetts to no reduction in Mississippi, said Ahmedin Jermal, D.V.M, Ph.D. and American Cancer Society vice president for surveillance research.

“These regional differences are surprising because when you look at differences in reductions by state, they are huge,” he said.

Researchers found a strong correlation between higher rates of screening and higher reductions in rates of mortality by state and speculated economic disparities—higher poverty and uninsured people—may be playing a major role in higher death rates in the South.

For example, 18.8 percent of people in Mississippi have no health insurance, compared with 5.4 percent in Massachusetts. More than 20 percent of the population of Mississippi lives below the poverty line, compared with a national average of 13 percent.

Each year, about 150,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and about 50,000 die from the disease. Although use of colorectal screening and colonoscopy increased among U.S. adults, including those from vulnerable populations, 45 percent of adults aged 50 to 75—or nearly 35 million people—were not up-to-date with screening in 2008, according to the report.

Colorectal cancer is often highly treatable if found and treated early while it is small and before it has spread, according to the American Cancer Society. In fact, early diagnosis offers a 90 percent 5-year survival rate, but because many people are not getting tested, only about four out of 10 are diagnosed early when treatment is most likely to be successful.

Elizabeth Jacobs, Ph.D., an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Arizona, said the report shows a significant change in historical trends and what can happen with improved access to screening. She says screening can find polyps and remove them long before they turn to cancer.

“It used to be that the highest rates of colorectal cancer deaths were in the northeastern United States, but now we’ve really seen a switch,” she said. “Better access means saving more lives.”

Lynette Summerill is an award-winning writer who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues for EmpowHER, her work has been seen in newspapers and magazines around the world.

Sources: Trends in Colorectal Cancer Test Use among Vulnerable Populations in the United States. Carrie N. Klabunde, Kathleen A. Cronin, Nancy Breen, William R. Waldron, Anita H. Ambs, and Marion R. Nadel. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers PrevJune 8, 2011 ; Published OnlineFirst June 8, 2011; doi:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-11-0220. Abstract accessed at:

Five Myths About Colon Cancer. American Cancer Society. Accessed at

Reviewed July 7, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Alison Stanton

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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