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Erie County not waiting to educate Buffalo-Cheektowaga neighborhoods about cancer cluster

National Public Radio

It's not clear when Albany will finally finish its study on the high rate of certain cancers on Buffalo's East Side and into Cheektowaga. However, Erie County is ready to award a contract for educating residents about what to do.Almost a year ago, the State Health Department told public meetings there was an area on the East Side and West Cheektowaga with notably high rates of six cancers: prostate, colorectal, esophageal, kidney, lung and oral cavity. The department was trying to figure out why this cluster pattern existed, with similar patterns in some other areas of the state.

Erie County has been holding off on an education program for those neighborhoods. However, during a public meeting Wednesday evening at the William-Emslie YMCA, Ben Swanekamp, special assistant to the county health commissioner, said the county is going ahead with the program.

"Until the study comes out, we are at least doing forward with our RFP process," Swanekamp said. "We're going to award a contract next week to one of our respondents and that not-for-profit will be tasked with doing outreach to residents and providers in the affected area to educate folks about proper screenings, age-appropriate and sex-appropriate screenings and then information about those six cancers."

Several of the cancers have well-known screening tests, like PSA for prostate cancer. Swanekamp said the county cancer services program is already connecting people who want the screening with ways to pay for it to make sure they can be tested.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

"The county has had a cancer services program which provides education and free cancer screenings for breast, cervical and prostate cancer and colorectal cancer, and we always try and do education on the available screenings in our community and also for folks that don't have insurance, work with them with the department services to get them Medicaid or a New York State healthcare plan so that they can get that screening done," Swanekamp said.

Another issue that came up in the meeting was the lead paint problem in city housing. Napoleon Green tied the two together, with a long-past county program passing out free house paint - lead house paint.

"We depended on our legislators, our community leaders to help guide us in the way in which to go and we went with them, tight and unified, and now I'm battling cancer," Green said.

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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