There are countless reasons we choose to live where we do, but an early death isn’t one of them. And yet, for all the beauty and benefit of living in rural Ohio, the number of women who die from breast, colorectal and cervical cancer is higher in rural Ohio than in the rest of the United States.
That disconcerting news ties into another recent, and alarming, discovery: for the five deadliest diseases in the United States, people in rural communities are more likely to die than their counterparts in and around cities. It’s a conclusion that emerged this spring in a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to the latest data on death rates, heart disease, cancer, injury, lung disease, and stroke are higher for the 46 million Americans living far from metropolitan areas.
Critically, the CDC doctors also noted that people from rural communities are less likely to have access to health care or health insurance, and are more likely to be less healthy, overall. While the causes are complex, some of the solutions are within reach. That’s especially true for cancer.
With early detection, cancer is becoming a treatable condition, even curable, for many Americans.
Rising above statistics
For 30 years, I have studied cancer prevention and control, with an eye toward helping rural populations and women prevent, detect, and recover from cancer. While the healthcare disparity between rural and urban populations may be growing more stark, the challenge of early detection is not new.
To try to understand why cancer deaths—particularly for cancers that often can be prevented—are so high in this part of the country, and to learn how we can help, colleagues and I here at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute are reaching out to women across our region.
We’re asking women in Champaign County what they know about cancer in the hope that we can remove some of the biggest obstacles keeping them from regular screenings. Our new effort is called the Rural Interventions for Screening Effectiveness, or RISE, project. We’re hoping to enroll more than 1,000 women from 32 counties in western Ohio and eastern Indiana, to invite women between the ages of 50 and 75 who have never had, or are overdue, for their breast, cervical or colon cancer screening tests.
Changing attitudes, saving lives
Funded by a federal grant from the National Cancer Institute, our project goal is to improve the participation rate for cancer screenings.
We will provide a third of participants with an interactive DVD that explains cancer testing; another third with the DVD plus access to a patient navigator (someone who helps patients navigate healthcare challenges); and the final third with general information via a newsletter.
We’ll pair that outreach with brief surveys by phone and mail – one before the intervention begins, one two months after enrollment, and one at the end of the year-long effort.
The findings should reveal whether or not the interventions encourage participants to get screened for cancer, or alternatively, what concerns kept participants from getting tested. So, in addition to encouraging RISE participants to get screened, we’re also hoping to learn how we can further encourage others to do so.
We know how to help keep cancer at bay, but only if we all get screened. RISE is the first intervention of this type to simultaneously target the three most effective cancer screening tests for women in rural areas. It’s an exciting approach that we hope will reduce the suffering from cancer, and for many, prevent the disease from ever starting.
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