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Living in the country can lead to better cancer outcomes, study finds

Beating cancer may be more successfully done in the countryside, with new research showing that rural dwellers are 29 percent less likely to die from cancer than those who live in the urban setting.

According to a study published in the British Journal of General Practice, the better outcomes for rural patients may be due to the ease of setting a doctor’s appointment in the country, as well as the personal relationship rural patients have with their healthcare providers.

The study, led by researchers from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, examined 926 Scottish patients who had colorectal cancer. Of the participants, 298 were based in the country, while 628 were based in the city. In comparing the survival rates between these two groups of participants, the researchers found that rural patients had a higher three-year survival rate.

While it’s easy to assume that being further away from healthcare providers leads to worse outcomes for cancer patients, the study’s findings suggest otherwise. “Rural patients travelling farther to the GP [general practitioner] had better three-year survival,” the study found.

At the same time, even patients in urban areas who have to travel longer to their doctor had increased survival rates. “Longer travel in urban areas significantly reduced the odds of emergency admissions and increased survival. Longer travel also increased the odds of presenting with alarm symptoms in urban areas…presences of alarm symptoms reduced the likelihood of emergency admissions,” the study said.

Researchers noted that those living in rural areas generally have better access to their doctors, compared to those living in more densely populated urban areas, where patients may have to wait longer to secure an appointment. Rural patients are also more likely to know their doctors personally, which researchers said may help, depending on the situation.

Is rural life really healthier?

These findings are contrary to those from an earlier report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The study found that Americans based in rural areas had higher death rates from the five leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke.

The report noted that those living in rural areas had poorer health in general, which the CDC attributed mostly to lack of quality health care services. Country dwellers have higher poverty rates, poorer access to health care services, and are less likely to be insured and seek care on time, they said. Rural residents were also more likely to have higher rates of smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, and not using seat belts — all of which are significant risk factors for the top five causes of death.

Statistics notwithstanding, the countryside tends to have a cleaner environment, with lower crime rates, less traffic, and more greenery — all of which support one’s overall health and well-being. A separate study said that those who are based in areas surrounded by greenery — particularly in rural or suburban areas — have better mental and physical health.

Frances Kuo, a professor of landscape and human health, found in a study that green environments lead to better brain function, as well as improved self-discipline and impulse control, reported. People who live in green environments also tend to be more supportive of their neighbors, contributing to stronger community ties in rural neighborhoods.

Apart from this, greener spaces were found to have a positive effect on those recovering from surgery. A green environment also promoted more physical activity and a stronger immune system.

While studies on the health benefits of rural living are conflicting, it cannot be denied that having access to a less-polluted, more friendly environment can be profoundly beneficial for the people who live there.

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