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State to examine high cancer rates on LI, 3 other regions

New York is budgeting $500G for the studies and its findings are expected within a year.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker addresses members

State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker addresses members of the media during a press conference at Farmingdale State College, Feb. 17, 2017, announcing State DEC plans to study various contaminated superfund sites on Long Island. Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

A statewide initiative aimed at examining elevated rates of cancer in four key regions — including Long Island — is being launched by the State Health Department, which will study patterns and potential causes of the disease.

The initiative was first announced Wednesday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and other top state officials, but explained in greater detail on Thursday. The state is budgeting about $500,000 toward the regional studies. Findings are expected within a year.

In addition to Long Island, where there has been a decades-long elevated incidence of breast cancer, officials will be examining higher-than-normal cancer rates in the eastern part of the state surrounding Warren County; the western part of the state surrounding Erie County, and Staten Island.

More people in Warren County are diagnosed with cancer than anywhere else in New York, and the cancer incidence on Staten Island is an anomaly compared with the other four New York City boroughs, state health officials said.

Epidemiologists and other state health experts will review cancer data, demographics and occupational factors. They plan to consult with the State Department of Environmental Conservation on possible exposures that may be contributors to cancer patterns seen in specific areas.

“More than 1 million New Yorkers are living with a current or former cancer diagnosis and millions more have lost a loved one to this devastating disease. These are sobering facts and exactly why Governor Cuomo is pursuing expansive actions to prevent, detect, and successfully treat cancer,” Dr. Howard Zucker, state health commissioner, said in a statement.

The most common malignancies diagnosed statewide are lung, colon, prostate and female breast cancer. The incidence of all types of cancer — including thyroid malignancies and cancers of the blood — have been rising steadily over the years.

While cancer tends to be a disease of aging, other factors such as familial history, genetics, lack of physical exercise and obesity are common causes. But state officials say there may be other risks that have yet to be found.

Data in the state’s Cancer Registry show that not only is breast cancer a significant type of the disease on Long Island, it is the most frequently diagnosed form of cancer statewide. The most recent registry data is for the years 2010 to 2014.

On average, 15,358 women were diagnosed annually with breast cancer compared with 14,282 men who were diagnosed with a prostate malignancy. About 6,816 for women were diagnosed each year with lung cancer compared with 6,772 men, registry data show.

“Cancer isn’t one disease, it is many different diseases, and all have many contributing causes,” Brad Hutton, deputy commissioner for the state’s Office of Public Health told Newsday on Thursday.

Even breast cancer isn’t a single disease, but one with multiple forms marked by the presence of different biological signatures, scientists have found.

Long Island’s breast cancer incidence has been extensively studied for years and in 2002 scientists concluded that age, genetics and other common factors helped explain the higher-than-expected incidence of the disease in Nassau and Suffolk.

Hutton, however, said state experts would take a “fresh look” at Long Island breast cancer patterns.

Beyond the common forms of cancer, Hutton said state medical investigators also would be analyzing rare forms of cancer. “The profile and pattern [of cancer ] in a specific area of the state will guide the analysis,” he said.

Health department officials will use results from the initiative to enhance community screening and prevention efforts.

The new initiative comes on the heels of a poll released earlier this week by doctors at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, which found women in the greater metropolitan area to be more likely than men to undergo cancer screening.

“The earlier cancer is diagnosed greatly improves a patient’s chance for survival,” said Dr. Rajiv Datta, medical director of the Gertrude & Louis Feil Cancer Center at South Nassau.

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