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Eastern Kentucky Is a Hotspot for Colorectal Cancer

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Kentuckians living in the Appalachian region are at higher risk of developing and dying from colorectal cancer than other U.S. residents, according to a recent study.

The study, published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, lists 60 counties in Kentucky as hotspots for colorectal cancer. The high risk counties are primarily located in northeastern Kentucky.

The counties include Ballard, Elliott, McCracken, Bullitt, Clay and Shelby.

Rebecca Siegel, director of surveillance information for the American Cancer Society, said colorectal cancer rates in Appalachia have been higher than the rest of the U.S. since the 1970s.

And though the deaths from the disease have decreased by 48 percent since then, the death rate in Appalachia is 18 percent higher than the rest of the U.S..

"Central Appalachia has longstanding challenges in terms of poverty, high unemployment and as a result less access to healthcare. So, people have obstacles to getting screened for colorectal cancer and they also have obstacles to getting treatment,” she said.

And the state's high rates of smoking and obesity are also contributing factors; both are associated with colorectal cancer risks.

Siegel said colorectal cancer can be prevented with proper and timely screenings. The study suggests targeted screening interventions for people living in these hotspots.

“A lot of people don’t want to get screened for cancer because they’re afraid about what they’re going to find out, and for colorectal cancer screening is unique in that we can actually prevent cancer by detecting and removing pre-cancers,” she said.

The study also lists hotspots  in the Mississippi Delta and eastern Virginia and North Carolina.