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Cancer down nationwide, but ‘hot spots’ persist

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Story highlights

A study shows which counties are cancer "hot spots"; previous data have largely looked at states

Cancer clusters are due to health disparities that may be addressed through local health programs

Delaware eliminated the bulk of colorectal cancer disparities among African-Americans in the 2000s

CNN —  

Cancer deaths in the United States dropped over 20% between 1980 and 2014, but a new study shows that some places are being left behind.

Looking at death records from the National Center for Health Statistics, the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association pinpoints cancer clusters where deaths have not come down. In fact, some places have gotten worse.

“It makes you wonder: How could this happen in a country like ours, when we spend more money on health than any other country in the world?” said Ali Mokdad, the lead author of the study and a professor at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health.

The highs and the lows

Of the 19.5 million cancer deaths on record during the 24-year period, nearly half came from three cancers: Cancer of the lungs and airways took the lion’s share, followed by colorectal and breast cancers.

Based on 2014 data, lung cancer deaths bunched across the state of Kentucky, though Union County, Florida, had the highest in the nation with 231 deaths per 100,000 people that year. Breast cancer, on the other hand, lit up the map along the Mississippi River and Southern belt. It was highest in Madison County, Mississippi, with 52 deaths per 100,000 people.

Summit County, Colorado, which has fewer than 30,000 residents, had the lowest incidences of both lung and breast cancers, at 11 deaths per 100,000 people for each cancer.

Liver cancer increased by almost 88% nationwide over the 24 years, from 3.6 to 6.8 deaths per 100,000 people. The authors pointed out clusters along Texas’ border with Mexico and in several counties in states with large Native American populations: New Mexico, Alaska and South Dakota. However, the researchers did not examine the reasons for the increase.

Overall, the counties with the cancer highest mortality rates were in Kentucky and the South (per 100,000 people):

  1. Union County, Florida 503.05
  2. Madison County, Mississippi 363.03
  3. Powell County, Kentucky 337.43
  4. Breathitt County, Kentucky 329.07
  5. Marlboro County, South Carolina 324.02
  6. Owsley County, Kentucky 323.30
  7. Anderson County, Texas 323.22
  8. Perry County, Kentucky 322.75
  9. Harlan County, Kentucky 319.82
  10. Lee County, Kentucky 317.33

The lowest rates of all cancers were seen in these counties (per 100,000 people):