Friday, July 8, 2011

Heading South: Colorectal Cancer Rates Decrease, But Not Much

A new study this week revealed that fewer people are being diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and the number of people dying from the disease is decreasing as well. This is due in large part to an increase in the number of people getting screened, as well as reducing or eliminating risk factors such as smoking and obesity.

The news for us in the South, however, is not quite as good. The highest rates of colorectal cancer deaths are in the South and Appalachia. While death rates fell by as much as 33 percent in several Northeastern states, the decrease was only 15 percent or less in six Southern states, including Alabama.

Why is this the case? There are several reasons. Southern states are generally poorer than Northern states, and they tend to have more residents without health insurance who may forgo the regular screening that experts recommend for people over age 50. Southerners are also more likely to be obese and to smoke. Alabama is actually the second fattest state in the nation, with a 32.3 percent obesity level. Of the 10 states with the highest obesity rates, nine are in the South.

The UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center is committed to addressing disparities such as these. Our location in the heart of the Deep South makes us a natural leader in developing research and delivery programs to understand and eliminate cancer health disparities. Our Deep South Network for Cancer Control has been quite active and successful in making progress in these arena among minority populations. We have recently begun expanding our research efforts in obesity to better understand the connection between nutrition and cancer. This work is being led by world-renowned nutrition scientist Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, Ph.D, who joined the Cancer Center in 2010.

Rest assured that our scientists are working every day toward our goal of eliminating cancer as a public health problem. I truly believe that this will soon be a reality.

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

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