Southern States Have Higher Death Rates from Colorectal Cancer

Southern states lag behind Northern states in colorectal cancer survival, according to a new study.Officials from the American Cancer Society say the mortality rates from colorectal cancer have significantly improved over the past decade in Northern states but have remained the same in Southern states.

Massachusetts, for example, saw a 37 percent reduction in death rate from colorectal cancer from 1990 to 2007, while there was no reduction of the death rate in Mississippi.

“This was very surprising, because when you look at the differences in reductions by state they are huge,” said Ahmedin Jemal, D.V.M., Ph.D., vice president for surveillance research at the American Cancer Society.

Colorectal cancer remains the third leading cause of cancer both for men and women, but rates have been declining nationwide over the past several decades.

Researchers say the Northern-Southern divide in colorectal cancer deaths may be explained by differences in rates of screening, economic disparities and amount of health care coverage.

In Mississippi, 18.8 percent of people do not have 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.

“It used to be that the highest rates of colorectal cancer mortality were in the northeastern part of the United States, but now we’ve really seen a switch,” said Elizabeth Jacobs, Ph.D., an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Arizona. “It shows the importance of access to screening.”

The study was published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.