Western Tidewater among colon cancer ‘hot spots’

Published 5:45 pm Saturday, July 11, 2015

The risk of death from colorectal cancer has dropped dramatically in recent decades, but researchers from the American Cancer Society have said there are three regions in the United States in which death rates are “unnecessarily high.” One of these areas is Western Tidewater, which includes Franklin, Southampton County, Isle of Wight County and Suffolk.

These findings, published in the scholarly journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, revealed the rates of colon cancer deaths are highest in 107 counties in Appalachia, 94 counties in the lower Mississippi Delta and 37 cities and counties in Southeast Virginia and Northeast North Carolina.

Those from Virginia include Amelia County, Brunswick County, Charles City, Charlotte County, Chesapeake, Chesterfield County, Colonial Heights, Dinwiddie County, Emporia, Greensville County, Hopewell, James City, Lunenburg County, New Kent County, Newport News, Nottoway County, Petersburg, Portsmouth, Prince Edward County, Prince George County, Surry County and Sussex County, as well as the aforementioned in Western Tidewater.

Led by Rebecca Siegal, director of surveillance information at the American Cancer Society, the researchers found that death rates in the lower Mississippi Delta were 40 percent higher than the rest of the country from 2009 to 2011. Rates were 18 percent higher for that same time period in Appalachia, which includes Southern Ohio and parts of Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia. In Southeast Virginia and Northeast North Carolina, rates were 9 percent higher.

“[These regions] are low-hanging fruit for colorectal cancer screening interventions,” Siegel said in a journal news release.

Colorectal cancer develops in the colon and rectum, and according to the American Cancer Society, it is the third-most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. Researchers say that a lack of education, access to screening and demographics are to blame for the concentrated rates of colon cancer. They noted that from 1970 to 1990, the colon cancer death rate rose more than 3.5 percent per year among African-American men in the lower Mississippi Delta and that it has remained unchanged since.

“Although we’ve made great strides against colorectal cancer in a fairly short time period, there are a lot of vulnerable populations that aren’t benefiting,” Siegel said. “Now that these groups have been identified, there is a moral obligation to do something about it.

“Targeted interventions, like using people within the community to talk to their neighbors about screening, are likely to be effective. We know interventions work because we have an example in Delaware, where they implemented statewide colorectal cancer screening and effectively eliminated disparities in less than a decade.”