Alec Stone
Alec Stone MA, MPA, ONS Public Affairs Director

Although U.S. cancer rates between 1980 and 2014 have fallen overall, there are parts of the country that have not seen a decrease. This information was reported in a new study conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

The researchers found that cancer deaths fell 20 percent between 1980 and 2014, but that in some areas of the country the mortality rates increased.

Even the study’s researcher was surprised. It appears that of the United States’ 3000 counties, about 160 saw higher mortality rates than the rest of the nation. Overall, the study found that U.S. cancer mortality rates dropped from about 240 cancer deaths per 100,000 people in 1980 to 192 per 100,000 in 2014.

There were several states that saw outlying results, including Kentucky, West Virginia, Alabama, and Alaska. These increases were attributed to several factors by the researchers.

  • Socioeconomic status—people with higher incomes and education levels sought medical advice.
  • Access to health care—those without insurance or insufficient coverage had difficulty finding preventative services.
  • Quality of care—being treated before and after an illness was a factor in care.
  • Risk factors—smoking, obesity, and lack of activity also led to poorer health.

Translating this information into better public health is a challenge. “We really have no other way to guide cancer prevention and control activities other than using data” Eric Durbin, director of Cancer Informatics for the Kentucky Cancer Registry at the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center, said. “Otherwise, you’re just throwing money or resources at a problem without any way to measure the impact.”

Durbin also said that after seeing the results, the county was able to directly decrease colorectal cancer incidence rates. They have continued to see those impacted areas fall in each subsequent year. This just goes to show how valuable data can be when determining interventions throughout the country.