In many regions throughout the United States, cancer rates have declined over the past 45 years. Appalachia however, has experienced not only an increasing number of cancer cases, but also a higher mortality rate from the disease according to research conducted by the UVa School of Medicine.
Appalachia used to have the country’s lowest cancer death rate but now has the highest despite progress in detection, diagnosis, and treatment in general. This rise in cancer may be traced back to the poverty that has gripped Appalachia for decades. Much of the region’s population does not have adequate access to health care.
The local economy of Appalachia is conducive to high rates of cancer. Smoking and obesity are common. Change must come to the region’s economy, lifestyle, and health care system.
Remedying the rising rates of cancer proves a formidable task. Providing quality cancer care to those in Appalachia presents a variety of challenges. As Appalachians are not typically high-cost patients, meaning that they utilize little health care including resources allotted for Medicare and Medicaid, they are often not on the forefront of policymakers’ minds.
“While sad, [the increase of cancer in Appalachia] is not shocking. Cancer treatment and prevention are issues of access to the right resources,” said pre-medical school student Megan Eisenfelder. The availability of resources “just isn’t there in the same way that it is in wealthy urban areas.”
Appalachians’ struggle to travel to comprehensive cancer centers has also contributed to this phenomenon.
The region is experiencing a time of crisis. Hopefully the work of the UVa Medical School will call policymakers’ attention to Appalachia.
The discoveries of UVa Researchers Nengliang (Aaron)Yao, Héctor E. Alcalá, Roger Anderson and Rajesh Balkrishnan can be found in the Journal of Rural Health.