WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 (UPI) -- Residents of Appalachia continue to have higher rates of cancer regardless of race and location.
Appalachia is a region of the Eastern United States defined by the presence of the Appalachian Mountains. It stretches from Mississippi to New York and includes 420 counties in 13 states and roughly 25 million people.
Though rich in natural resources, the region has historically lagged behind the rest of the country in measures of economic health, with consistently higher rates of poverty and worse healthcare outcomes.
Researchers at the American Association for Cancer Research say the cancer rate disparity is likely caused by higher rates of tobacco use and poor access to quality healthcare in the region.
This week, the organization published a study on the disparities in its journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.
"Appalachia continues to have higher cancer incidence rates than the rest of the country," lead study author Reda Wilson, an epidemiologist at the CDC, confirmed in a news release. "But a promising finding is that we're seeing the gap narrow in the incidence rates between Appalachia and non-Appalachia since the 2007 analysis with the exception of cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx, larynx, lung and bronchus, and thyroid."
When compared with the general population, residents of Appalachia were at greater risk of cancer diagnosis regardless of age, gender or region. Higher cancer rates were found among residents of north, central and south Appalachia.
But the study isn't meant to be simply a bearer of bad or good news. Researchers aim to identify where and how healthcare improvements and behavioral changes can make the most difference in the region.
"This study helps identify types of cancer in the Appalachian region that could be reduced through more evidence-based screening and detection," Wilson explained. "Our study also emphasizes the importance of lifestyle changes needed to prevent and reduce cancer burden."