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More questions than answers at cancer 'hot zone' meeting

Mike Desmond

The New York State Health Department took its cancer study into the field Tuesday night, to the Delavan-Grider Community Center - in the middle of Western New York's cancer hot zone.

The department is looking at four areas in New York State where cancer rates are well above the state and national averages. Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants a report by the end of the year on why and what can be done in each of the four areas.

The East Buffalo-West Cheektowaga area has six cancers well above the state and national averages - and even above other local areas. There were more questions than answers.

Patricia Ostrowski said she sees a lot of cancer cases in her neighborhood.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

"It's concerning. I'm very concerned with what's happening because there's so much of an increase of certain cancers all around me," Ostrowski said, "and it's like, why? The question is why? I know supposedly cancer is supposed to be a disease of age, but to see much of it, so much around me."

The six cancers with higher than-average rates are colorectal, esophageal, kidney, lung, oral cavity and prostate. All but prostate are related to smoking. Many are treatable if found early enough and there are tests, like the Roswell Park-developed PSA test for prostate cancer.

There was a push at the meeting for people to talk to their doctors if they notice symptoms of some of the cancers. Charles Thompson wanted clarification.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

"This area, the East Side-West Side of Cheektowaga do have cancer?" Thompson asked, "or is there reseach on the possibility of getting cancer?"

He was told this is based on actual cancer cases between 2011 and 2015, showing local cancer levels are high and even higher in the study area. Thompson wanted to know why not Buffalo's West Side?

"Besides alcohol, smoking, not exercise and overweight, this is the only area on the East Side and West Cheektowaga, not on the West Side, where they have smoking and so forth?" he asked.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

Again the response was that the West Side has noticeable cancer problems, just not as high as across town.

Other questions: Is it environmental? Genetic? Insufficient medical care? Not enough preventive care?
Some answers may be more apparent soon.

Cancer survivor Rhonda Lee was there to talk about her experiences and her help from Roswell Park.
"Black people, African Americans, they really have a hard time with going to the doctor and telling each doctor what's been going on with them," Lee said. "If they go to the GYN, they're not going to tell the GYN doctor what's going on with their heart.

"So I do. I want to thank the wellness crew here and I do call and I do owe Roswell. I just want you all to know, because they got all my body parts."

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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