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Rural Cancer Control: Challenges & Opportunities – highlighting upcoming meeting

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This month, we celebrate continued declines in overall cancer death rates in the US, with decreases between 2000-2014 seen for men, women, and children. That’s the good news. The more concerning story is that although cancer mortality decreased overall, there were substantial differences among US counties and distinct clusters of high mortality, with many of these clusters seen in rural, underserved regions [1]. For health researchers and practitioners, this is not the equitable health improvement that we are working towards. Our current delivery systems in health care and public health may be exacerbating disparities in cancer by not reaching all in need [2]; yet, at the same time, these systems offer the potential for a vital new direction if we can build capacity for change in addressing rural cancer control for the 46 million Americans living in rural areas of the country.

Among several challenges, key issues facing rural Americans include limited access to health providers, a constrained and fragmented care delivery infrastructure, difficulty with continuity of care and coordinated communication among providers, few community resources to support early detection and preventive care, limited community health promotion opportunities, and constrained availability of internet and telecommunications. These issues are compounded as they overlay a generally older, sicker, and lower-income population found in rural areas.

We need solutions to match the size of our challenges!

Many innovations in rural health are already occurring and hold promise if implemented more widely across the country [3].  As you may have read in Dr. Robert Croyle’s Cancer Currents Blog, several activities at NCI are coming together to focus on addressing challenges in rural areas.  And new activities are underway–to share successes that can help build capacity, speed up research discoveries, and support uptake of evidence that continues to address the unique barriers in rural cancer care delivery. 

With that note, I am excited to share an upcoming meeting to be held at the FedEx Institute of Technology on the University of Memphis campus that will create an opportunity to share recent evidence-based interventions within rural health systems, encompassing topics across the cancer control continuum. Discussion will bring out ideas for future rural cancer control research that can be translated into effective interventions leading to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer that address unique rural barriers.

The meeting will bring together a community of researchers, practitioners, and other stakeholders to identify promising advances in cancer control research relevant to rural populations.  Experiences, case examples, and tested interventions will cover topics such as health care delivery, technological advancements, prevention programs, expanded access to screening, digital tools to affect health, fostering community partnerships, and engaging rural agencies as partners in health – all to highlight opportunities to enhance innovations that address what is valued by rural Americans and drive more equitable rural cancer outcomes.

Please consider joining us in Memphis on May 4th and 5th to share your research and voice in moving us from barriers to solutions!

Registration and meeting information at

  1. Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975–2014, Featuring Survival JNCI J Natl Cancer Inst (2017) 109(9): djx030 doi: 10.1093/jnci/djx030
  2. Vital Directions for Health and Health Care: Priorities from a National Academy of Medicine Initiative
  3. Hostetter M, Klein S.  Transforming Care: Reporting on Health System Improvement.  Re-imagining Rural Health Care.