Cancer deaths have dropped across the U.S.

But not in Maine.

Between 2002 and 2003, when the rest of the country saw deaths decline slightly, Maine stayed steady, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control.

Cancer deaths for Maine women did fall slightly between 2003 and 2004, precisely when the rest of the country saw a good-sized dip. But for Maine men, the number of deaths rose.

Experts say there are a lot of reasons why local cancer deaths aren’t on the decline, including a population that is one of the oldest in the country.

“Age is a major factor in cancer,” said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, who heads the Maine CDC.

She also believes that Maine’s smoking history has contributed to current cancer deaths since “you’re reflecting the smoking rates of 20 to 30 years ago.”

At the American Cancer Society’s Maine office, officials believe Maine’s rural nature may also play a role. People have to travel far to visit doctors, get screenings and participate in treatment. Some Mainers simply don’t do it, said spokeswoman Sue Clifford.

The Cancer Society has also found that people in some immigrant and migrant communities shy away from local doctors for religious or societal reasons.

“In Maine it’s a matter of education. Education and early prevention,” Clifford said.

While the Cancer Society isn’t concerned about Maine’s number of cancer deaths, Clifford said, “We’re certainly keeping a pulse on them.”

Clifford said the Cancer Society would like to see state legislation requiring insurance companies to cover the cost of colonoscopies in an effort to reduce colon cancer deaths. It is also urging young women to get vaccinated against the human papilloma virus in an effort to cut cervical cancer.