Policy Recommendations for Improving Rural Cancer Services in the United States

Adrienne B. Lent, Daniel Derksen, Elizabeth T. Jacobs, Leila Barraza, Elizabeth A. Calhoun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Compared with urban residents, rural Americans have seen slower declines in cancer deaths, have lower incidence but higher death rates from cancers that can be prevented through screening, have lower screening rates, are more likely to present with later-stage cancers, and have poorer cancer outcomes and lower survival. Rural health provider shortages and lack of cancer services may explain some disparities. The literature was reviewed to identify factors contributing to rural health care capacity shortages and propose policy recommendations for improving rural cancer care. Uncompensated care, unfavorable payer mix, and low patient volume impede rural physician recruitment and retainment. Students from rural areas are more likely to practice there but are less likely to attend medical school because of lower graduation rates, grades, and Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores versus urban students. The cancer care infrastructure is costly and financially challenging in rural areas with high proportions of uninsured and publicly insured patients. A lack of data on oncology providers and equipment impedes coordinated efforts to address rural shortages. Graduate Medical Education funding greatly favors large, urban, tertiary care teaching hospitals over residency training in rural, critical access and community-based hospitals and clinics. Policies have the potential to transform rural health care. This includes increasing advanced practice provider postgraduate oncology training opportunities and expanding the scope of practice; improving health workforce and services data collection and aggregation; transforming graduate medical education subsidies to support rural student recruitment and rural training opportunities; and expanding federal and state financial incentives and payments to support the rural cancer infrastructure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)288-294
Number of pages7
JournalJCO Oncology Practice
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Health Policy
  • Oncology(nursing)


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