About 15 people die daily of cancer on Long Island, where the four major forms of the disease still represent more than half the new cases and nearly half of all tumor-related deaths, experts said Friday.
"Heart disease is no longer the leading killer of Americans under age 85 -- cancer is," said Dr. Myra Barginear, an oncologist at the Monter Cancer Center in Lake Success. "Cancer surpassed heart disease in people under 85 as far back as 1999."
Overall, the death rate for most forms of cancer declined during the past 20 years.
In the 1990s, an estimated 223.8 per every 100,000 people died from all forms of cancer compared with 177.6 in more recent years. Experts attribute the decrease to earlier detection and better forms of therapy.
The four leading forms of the disease -- locally and nationally -- are lung, breast, prostate and colorectal cancers.
In Nassau County, lung cancer accounts for 12 percent of all cancer cases but 24.6 percent of all cancer deaths. In Suffolk, the malignancy represents 13.6 percent of cancer cases, but 27.6 of area's cancer mortality.
The dramatic difference between lung cancer incidence and mortality highlights a critical need for a stronger emphasis on tobacco cessation programs, experts say.
By comparison, breast cancer accounts for 14.9 percent of cancer cases in Nassau and 8.1 percent of its cancer-related deaths. In Suffolk, breast cancer represents 14.1 percent of cancer cases and 7.7 percent of deaths.
Overall, the four cancers represent 51.2 percent of all new cancers between 2004 and 2008 and 48.6 percent of all cancer-related deaths.
Barginear called on the federal government, the largest medical research-funding entity in the world, to train a brighter spotlight on cancer and make it a priority.
Her remarks came during a news conference Friday at Monter Cancer Center, a division of the North Shore-LIJ Health System, where cancer survivors and their families gathered to kick off the American Cancer Society's Action Network campaign. Advocates called on both U.S. presidential candidates to make cancer a priority in the upcoming four-year term.
"Many important decisions from diagnosis to end-of-life care are made not just in the doctor's office but also in the nation's capital," said James Pistilli, lead ambassador for the cancer society's campaign.
He and a group of advocates stood next to a large cutout -- a silhouette of 15 adults and children -- representing people of all ages on Long Island who die each day of cancer.
The campaign has a mobile van traveling throughout New York and New Jersey to remind the public about cancer's impact. People are invited to sign their names with an indelible-ink marker on the vehicle to show support for those fighting the disease.
"Cancer impacts your whole family," said Sondra Nussbaum of Roslyn, a breast cancer survivor, accompanied by her 11-year-old daughter, Abby.
"Telling my kids that I had cancer was the most difficult thing I ever had to do," noted Nussbaum, a three-year survivor of the disease.
Caregiver Elsy Mecklembourg-Guibert of Elmont noted that taking care of someone with cancer carries a heavy toll. "Sometimes it's as difficult as being a patient," she said.
Pam Cartledge, a breast cancer survivor from Mill Neck, noted that it isn't always one the major forms of disease that steals the lives of loved ones. A friend, she said, died of a very aggressive form of lymphoma.