Cancer in Rural America as a Public Health Issue

Key points

  • Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States.1
  • Compared to urban areas, rural areas have lower rates of new cancer cases, but the cancer death rate is higher.2
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Cancer death rates have decreased nationwide. However, recent data out of CDC shows a slower reduction in cancer death rates in rural America (a decrease of 1.0 percent per year) compared with urban America (a decrease of 1.6 percent per year). This was driven in part by high death rates from lung, colorectal, prostate, and cervical cancers.

Rates of new cases for lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and cervical cancer were also higher in rural counties. In contrast, rural counties were found to have lower rates of new cancers of the female breast and prostate. While geography alone can't predict cancer risk, it can impact prevention, diagnosis and treatment opportunities. Many cancer cases and deaths are preventable with targeted public health efforts and interventions.

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CDC studies the cancer rates in different communities across America.


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RHIhub provides a webinar and information on cancer in rural America.

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  • 1. Moy E, Garcia MC, Bastian B, et al. Leading Causes of Death in Nonmetropolitan and Metropolitan Areas — United States, 1999–2014. MMWR Surveill Summ 2017;66(No. SS-1):1–8. DOI:
  • 2. Henley SJ, Anderson RN, Thomas CC, Massetti GM, Peaker B, Richardson LC. Invasive Cancer Incidence, 2004–2013, and Deaths, 2006–2015, in Nonmetropolitan and Metropolitan Counties — United States. MMWR Surveill Summ 2017;66(No. SS-14):1–13. DOI: