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TUESDAY, May 27, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Some cancers in the United States are tied to poverty, while others are more common among the wealthy, researchers report.
In the poorest areas of the country, the incidence of cancer is generally lower than in richer regions, but deaths from cancers are higher, the study authors said.
"Socioeconomic status is not something that appears on a medical record, so it is not really part of national cancer statistics, and this has skewed our thinking about cancer risk," said study co-author Kevin Henry, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Rutgers School of Public Health in New Jersey.
Greater access to screening among the rich, and risky behaviors more common among the poor -- such as smoking -- may help explain the disparities, experts said.
Since smoking rates are higher in poor areas, so is the incidence of smoking-related cancers, said Dr. Ahmedin Jemal, vice president for surveillance research at the American Cancer Society.
For their study, the researchers used the poverty rate of the patients' neighborhoods -- based on U.S. Census information -- as a measure of socioeconomic status in 16 states and Los Angeles County.
"We had data for almost 3 million cancer diagnoses in an area covering 42 percent of the United States population," Henry said. "This allowed us to look at some rare cancers that are less often studied. Overall, the breadth and depth of our analysis is unprecedented."
Although the researchers found scant association between poverty and cancers in general, for 32 of 39 cancers there was a significant link with economic status. Fourteen cancers were more common in poor areas and 18 were less common.
"Rates of cancers associated with overdiagnosis -- that is, cancers detected due to use of medical technology that would not have been identified otherwise -- tend to increase with increasing affluence," said study co-author Recinda Sherman, a program manager in data use and research at the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries.
Screening identifies these cancers early when they can be treated. This helps explain why poor people are more often diagnosed with advanced cancer and are more likely to die from these cancers, Jemal said.
These disparities, Jemal added, can be reduced only by targeting poor neighborhoods with messages about living a healthy lifestyle. This means stressing the importance of good nutrition, physical activity, maintaining a normal weight and not smoking, he said.
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SOURCES: Kevin Henry, Ph.D., assistant professor, Rutgers School of Public Health, department of epidemiology, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey; Recinda Sherman, Ph.D., program manager, data use and research, North American Association of Central Cancer Registries; Ahmedin Jemal, Ph.D., D.V.M., vice-president, surveillance research, American Cancer Society; May 27, 2014, Cancer, online