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State cancer analysis of Erie County could prompt better prevention, education

New York State Department of Health

A new State Health Department study is looking to determine why Western New York is one of the worst regions in New York for cancer and what can be done about it.

For a half-century, the state has maintained a registry to keep track of every cancer case in the state. Now, that computerized registry will be used to break down the data for Erie County upstate, Warren County in the North Country and Staten Island and Long Island downstate by a variety of possibilities, like demographics, jobs and potential environmental factors.

Roswell Park Cancer Institute Oncology Professor Mary Reid said this plan potentially is really good news for this area - by taking closer looks at the four worst cancer issues locally: lung, breast, prostate and colon.

"We know that the biggest cancer killer, we can prevent deaths from these cancers by early detection and I think that this is very forward thinking of him, as the rates are going up, as we see pockets of clearly excesses as we do in Western New York," Reid said. "We have to go after those."

As an Epidemiologist, Reid studies cancer screening, which she said has become really crucial.

"Coverage isn't as big an issue, it's getting access to people, getting them in the door to be screened," she said. "Again cancer's a multi-factorial disease. There are many causes that feed into who gets cancer and which cancer they get. Being diligent about the exposures, but also really being diligent about screening."

There are elemental screening tests for breast, prostate and colon cancers and a little-used test for early lung cancers. The analysis also will allow better education in dealing with causes, like smoking or environmental factors.

"Clearly, in Western New York, with an excess that we see and pockets of extreme excess in some cancers, this is a really great thing," Reid said. "I think that this is a move forward for public health and I'm glad he is doing something pro-active."

Warren County has the state's highest rate of cancer, followed by Erie not far behind. In announcing the year-long study, Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not explain why now, but he has recently seen breast cancer treatment in his partner, Sandra Lee.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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