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Officials to delve into cancer 'cluster' data at Stony Brook meeting

Dr. Yusuf A. Hannun, director of the Stony

Dr. Yusuf A. Hannun, director of the Stony Brook Cancer Center, at Stony Brook University Hospital said he doesn't want people to be alarmed with the data that shows significant incidence of cancer in three Long Island communities. "We need to know how strong these data are," he said. Credit: James Carbone

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Preliminary data involving elevated cancer incidence in three Long Island communities are expected to be presented Tuesday evening during a public meeting in Stony Brook.

Centereach, Farmingville and Selden in Suffolk County were found to have statistically significant rates of leukemia, bladder, lung and thyroid cancers, based on analyses of data in the New York State Cancer Registry, a compendium of cancer prevalence in the state.

Suffolk-area cancer specialists as well as a contingent of officials from the Suffolk County Department of Health, will attend the meeting, which runs from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn.

Long Island is one of four regions in New York found to have higher-than-expected incidence rates of cancer in an investigation launched last fall by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The initiative’s aim is to identify regions at elevated risk with ultimate plans to develop screening tools and possible methods of prevention.

“I would like to ask questions of these representatives,” said Holly Lanzetta in Southhold, whose son, Sam, 7, has undergone treatment for leukemia.

“He just finished treatment after three and half years. He was treated at Stony Brook [Children’s Hospital] . I want answers,” Lanzetta said.

Around noon Tuesday, hours before the public meeting, Dr. Yusuf Hannun, director of the Stony Brook Cancer Center, a division of Stony Brook Hospital, will meet with state health officials to discuss the preliminary findings.

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“I don’t want to read too much into the data until it has been vetted more,” Hannun said Monday. “And I don’t want people to be alarmed. We need to know how strong these data are.”

He also said with such preliminary information it would be premature to draw conclusions.

Despite those caveats, Hannun said he is applauding state health officials for investigating cancer incidence throughout New York.  

Hannun also said he has numerous questions, especially this one:  “Is cancer actually on the rise or is it being detected more vigilantly?”

Evidence abounds in the medical literature on what doctors often call “overdiagnosis.” The rising incidence of thyroid cancer nationwide – and abroad – has been blamed on the phenomenon, the result of improved diagnostic skills and technology.

“The best example was when South Korea started mandating screening for thyroid cancer,” Hannun said, noting the cancer’s incidence shot up fifteenfold.

“This is just to say that if you start looking for something, you will probably find it. The important point here is that in South Korea, the incidence went up, but there was no change in thyroid cancer mortality.

     “If there was a real increase thyroid cancer – everything being equal – there would have been more mortality from thyroid cancer,” he said.
 


       In addition to Long Island, state epidemiologists have identified higher-than-expected cancer incidence on Staten Island where thyroid cancer is particularly elevated; Warren County in the eastern part of the state, which had the highest incidence rate for all forms of cancer in New York, including brain tumors, and East Buffalo and Western Cheektowaga in Erie County, which was found to have six forms of cancer that had higher than expected rates. 

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