Deaths from colorectal cancer in Appalachian Kentucky have declined

Published 8:00 am Thursday, June 20, 2024

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Deaths from colorectal cancer in Appalachian Kentucky declined from 1999 to 2020, but far less than the rate of decline in the rest of the nation.

That’s the upshot of a University of Kentucky study analyzing death data.

It found that in the 54 Kentucky counties served by the Appalachian Regional Commission, the mortality rate fell from 31.24 deaths per 100,000 residents in 1999 to 24.46 per 100,000 in 2020. But the national rate dropped by almost half, from 27 deaths per 100,000 Americans in 1999 to 14.81 in 2020. In non-Appalachian Kentucky, the rate dropped from 27.6 to 17.1.

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During the entire 21 years covered by the study, the colorectal-cancer death rate in Appalachian Kentucky was 25.8 per 100,000 residents. In the 66 non-Appalachian counties, the rate was about 22 per 100,000. The national rate was 19.43 deaths per 100,000. Kentucky has the fourth highest death rate.

The Kentucky county with the highest age-adjusted rate from 1999 through 2020 was Fleming, at 39.6 deaths per 100,000 residents. The next highest were Harlan, 34.4; Bath, 33.2; Pike, 32.1; Breckinridge, 31.6; Henry, 31.5; Todd, 31.1; Carter, 30.7; Lewis, 30.7; Cumberland, 30.6; Mason, 30.5; Lawrence, 30.4; Morgan, 30.4; Clay, 30.2; Letcher, 29.7; Washington, 29.4; Nicholas, 28.6; Breathitt, 28.5; Perry, 28.5; Floyd, 28.3; Monroe, 28.3; Powell, 28.2; and Nelson, 27.9 (all in dark blue on the map).

The counties with the 10 lowest rates were Lyon, 14.9 per 100,000; Trimble, 16.97; McCracken, 17.7; Jessamine, 18.2; Shelby, 18.3; Madison, 18.4; Bullitt, 18.7; Trigg, 18.8; and Owen, 18.8.  Rates for Hickman and Robertson counties were not reported due to small case numbers.

The study, in the journal Gastroenterology, used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the causes of death for Americans 15 or older. Its lead author is Dr. Syed Hassan, a research coordinator and clinical research scientist in UK’s Department of Internal Medicine.

Hassan “said efforts to enhance screening rates should be improved and more education on colorectal cancer is needed,” according to a UK news release.

Henoted that In Appalachian Kentucky, nearly 41% of the colorectal cancer deaths occurred at home, suggesting that many victims might not have been seen by a doctor until the cancer had significantly advanced.

“That’s concerning, in my opinion,” Hassan said. “Access to health care, lifestyle related modifiable risk factors and education are important factors we should further work upon.”

Hassan also said anxiety about colonoscopies and other cancer screenings, and lack of education about the disease, may also play a role: “Many of these patients might’ve believed that they probably wouldn’t be able to afford as much care due to their socioeconomic status.”

Screening for colon cancer is recommended to start at age 45, because cancers of the colon and rectum tend to occur after age 40, but recent studies have shown increases in younger people, especially those with risk factors.

These cancers tend to run in families; studies show that if a close relative has had colorectal cancer, you can be predisposed to polyps — pre-cancerous lesions that can lead to the development of the cancer,

Other risk factors include age and lifestyle factors such as smoking, sedentary living, obesity, a diet rich in red meat, salt and saturated fats or a low-fiber diet.