Cancer Death Rates Have Fallen in Every Congressional District, But Not at the Same Pace

The cancer death rate has fallen substantially in recent decades in the United States, with a decrease of 33% since 1991. That means about 3.8 million deaths have been averted. A recent study investigated whether these trends were applicable in all corners of the country, by analyzing death rates in each congressional district.

Researchers at the American Cancer Society looked at cancer deaths by county, along with population data from the National Center for Health Statistics, to estimate cancer death rates from 1996-2003 to 2012-2020 in each U.S. congressional district. The researchers say the study was the first of its kind, and there was good and bad news.

U.S. Capitol building

Dr. Farhad Islami, lead author and senior scientific director of cancer disparity research at the American Cancer Society, says, “The good news is overall cancer death rates declined for both men and women in all congressional districts. However, we saw substantial disparities in progress against cancer mortality across congressional districts. Moreover, while the decline in death rates from cancer was most pronounced for Black men, overall cancer mortality remains substantially higher among Black people compared to other populations. We also found the number of districts with the greatest relative declines in overall cancer death rates was larger among Hispanic people than white people. But paradoxically, Hispanic people also had the largest number of districts with no or smallest relative declines in rates.”

The study, which was published the journal Cancer, showed that most districts had a 20-45% decrease in death rates among men and a 10-40% decrease among women. The largest declines occurred in districts along the southern coast and border, while the Midwest and central parts of the South had the smallest declines.

The study also provided data by sex and on the four most common forms of cancer: Lung, colorectal, breast, and prostate. With lung cancer, death rates for men were down across the board, ranging from 21-72% across each district. The smallest dents were seen in districts in the Midwest and South, where the highest number of lung cancer deaths among women were also recorded.

U.S. Capitol from side

For colorectal cancer, death rates had been highest in spots within the Northeast, South, and lower Midwest. This research found that the highest death rates are now found within the Mississippi River Valley in the South and in Appalachia.

Breast cancer deaths were down across the country, too, with districts seeing between 13.6 and 57.7% reductions. The highest death rates had been in spots along the East Coast and southern border, but that’s now shifted to the South and the East North-Central section of the Midwest.

Finally, for prostate cancer, reductions in death rates ranged from 25 to more than 68%, and the areas with the highest rates shifted from districts along the East Coast and the South to spots within the South and West.

Regarding the varying rates of decline, Dr. Islami says, “Data on progress against cancer by U.S. congressional districts can be an important tool for advocating cancer control. Multiple factors may have contributed to disparities in declines in cancer death rates across congressional districts, including differences in the availability of public health policies for tobacco control and access to care among many other policies. Elected representatives could help further advance progress against cancer mortality and reduce cancer disparities in their districts, state, and nationally by supporting broad and equitable implementation of effective interventions to reduce cancer risk factors and improve cancer screening and treatment.”

Doctor consulting with patient

Lisa A. Lacasse, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network president, says some steps lawmakers could take are increasing federal and state funding for the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program and tobacco control programs, expanding Medicaid in the 10 states that haven’t done so, and passing the federal Prostate Specific Antigen Screening for High Risk Insured Men Act.

To read the whole study, click here.

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