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Wide regional disparities seen in Alaska colorectal cancer rates

Rates of colorectal cancer in certain parts of rural Alaska are up to two and a half times as high as the state average. Patients in those rural areas appear to be getting diagnosed so late that the cancers are well advanced before they are identified, according to a new report for the years from 2015 to 2019 issued by the Alaska Department of Health.

Colorectal cancer rates were highest in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region, the report shows. The region has a case rate calculated at 102.4 per 100,000 people over the five-year study period, compared to the state average of 41.3 per 100,000. For patients with late-stage cases, the Yukon-Kuskokwim rate was also about 2.5 times as high as the state rate.

Alaska Natives have the world’s highest documented colorectal cancer rates, and the Yukon-Kuskokwim region has long been a hotspot for the disease. There are already efforts underway to boost screenings for colorectal cancer among Alaska Natives, especially in the hard-hit Yukon-Kuskokwim region.

Although colorectal cancer usually strikes older adults, younger Native adults have been increasingly diagnosed in recent years. Ten years ago, the Alaska Native Medical Center and Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium shifted their colorectal cancer screening guidelines, which now recommend that patient screenings start at age 40. Current national guidelines recommend screenings for the general U.S. population to start at age 45, a shift from the 50-year-old threshold widely used prior to 2021.

See “Report shows wide regional disparities seen in Alaska colorectal and lung cancer rates” by Yereth Rosen on the Alaska Beacon website (February 23, 2023)

See also “Incidence of Cancers Associated with Screening and Modifiable Risk Factors: Alaska 2015-2019” from the Alaska Department of Health (February 2023)

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