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Local cancer rates are higher than average

TRI-COUNTY AREA—People in the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier regions of New York are more likely to die of cancer than the state and national average, according to a new study.
The study, released by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield in mid-October, looked at the causes of all deaths in upstate New York from 2003 to 2005.
In the Finger Lakes region, cancer accounted for 6,612 of the 27,213 deaths during that period. This translates into a cancer death rate of 207.3 per 100,000 of population. This was 10.2 percent higher than the state average and 8.25 percent higher than the national rate.
In the Southern Tier, which includes Schuyler and Steuben Counties, 3,551 of 15,392 deaths were cancer-related, a cancer death rate of 235.3 per 100,000. This was 25.1 percent higher than the state number and 24.7 percent above the national rate.
While the Excellus report only looked at deaths from cancer, information on the rate of developing cancer can be found in the New York state cancer registry, which shows that Yates County has the highest incidence of colorectal cancer in men—at a rate of 89.5 per 100,000 people.
By contrast, the incidence rate in Schuyler County is 67.2.
Experts say that individual behaviors contribute to the higher-than-average numbers of cancer deaths in our area.
“This new report reinforces the reality that lifestyle choices directly influence regional mortality rates, “ said Arthur Vercillo, M.D., vice president/chief medical officer at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.
In addition to diet, age and family history, experts cite smoking and second-hand smoke as contributing to higher cancer rates locally. In addition, environmental exposure to toxins such as radon can lead to cancer.
But not all factors are created equal. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that up to 90 percent of lung cancer is caused by smoking.
And lung cancer has one of the highest death rates for any type of malignancy.
A 2007 report on smoking issued by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield noted that in 2006, 23.4 percent of adults in upstate New York smoked, compared with a state average of 18.2 percent and a national average of 20.0 percent.
Dr. James Coleman, who practices family medicine at Schuyler Hospital, explains that smoking contributes to all types of cancers because it puts carcinogens directly into the blood stream, and those carcinogens are then carried throughout the body.
“Smoking is the number-one modifiable risk factor,” he says. “Stopping smoking can really make a big difference in cancer risk.”
Locally, the use of oral tobacco products, such as chewing tobacco, and excessive alchohol intake, especially when combined with tobacco use, are factors that Coleman says he sees regularly.
Second-hand smoke is also a big issue. “Some people don’t give enough regard to the dangers of second-hand smoke and its relation to cancer and heart disease,” he says.
“Prevention is the absolute key when it comes to cancer,” he explains. “People need to modify the risk factors, and they need to come in for screenings.”
He acknowleges that some patients are reluctant to be tested because they are afraid of what the results will be, or there may be financial considerations. But he says cancer is much easier to treat in its early stages.
As for the cost of screening, Coleman says it all depends how you look at it.
“When you consider the cost of potentially treating a life-threatening disease, testing becomes a good investment,” he explains.

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