New Research Results: Colon Cancer Rates Higher in Rural Areas

For health care professionals, it’s maddening. The technology needed to stop colorectal cancer before it turns deadly has never been better.

Yet in 2024, the American Cancer Society expects it to cause 106,590 new cases and 53,010 deaths. In Pennsylvania, about 34% of those diagnosed with colorectal cancer die from the disease. Though rates have decreased overall, they’re increasing among adults younger than 55.

And in a time when information can circle the globe in nanoseconds, barriers like geography still get between doctors and patients.

Health care professionals are finding higher rates of advanced colorectal cancer in rural areas compared with urban centers, said Dr. Karen Kim, dean of Penn State College of Medicine and Dorothy Foehr Huck and J. Lloyd Huck Chair in Rural Health Research. Also, mortality rates related to the disease are higher in less populated areas “largely because people there tend to be diagnosed in the later stages,” she said.

As a clinician, Kim knows the heartbreak and frustration firsthand. With multiple choices for colorectal cancer screening available, she explained, medical science can stop and prevent this fatal disease. But barriers get between her and some of her patients who need it most.

“Unlike some cancers where we think about early detection, with colon cancer it’s really about finding premalignant lesions before they even become cancer,” she said. “It’s so difficult as a gastroenterologist to continue to watch people die from this preventable disease.”

Kim discussed why people in less populated areas are seeing colon cancer more often than people living in cities, and what you can do to help protect your own health.

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