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3 Long Island communities show high cancer rates

State health officials will investigate the cause of elevated incidence in Centereach, Farmingville and Selden.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker in a

State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker in a news conference on Long Island last year.   Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

A cluster of three Long Island communities was found to have elevated rates of several forms of cancer, which were identified in a special initiative that had been launched by the governor, officials with the State Department of Health said Thursday. 

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

The registry, an ongoing statistical record of cancer in New York for the past 75 years, is a database of demographic, diagnostic and cancer prevalence.  All cases of cancer that are diagnosed in the state are reported to the registry. A public meeting on the new Long Island findings will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. on July 17 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Stony Brook.

  “Our cancer registry scientists have completed their mapping,”  said Brad Hutton, deputy commissioner in the state Office of Public Health. He said state researchers assessed the number of cancers that were expected to occur based on the regional population. Then, they compared that total with the actual number of cancers diagnosed in the region. State researchers were able to declare regional rates elevated when the actual number of cancers exceeded the number of those that were expected, Hutton said.

Complete statistical details on the specific number of each form of cancer in the three-community area were not immediately available but will be completed by the time of the meeting on July 17, Hutton said.

The data to be presented involves the mapping phase of the state’s investigation, showing which forms of cancer are elevated and where these cancers are clustered.  Additional research will drill deeper into the data to add context to the current findings, but examine other critical criteria to better understand why certain forms of cancer are elevated in specific regions.

“We will be embarking on an investigation to find the hypotheses that will explain the elevated rates,” Hutton said.

While the initiative is aimed at gaining an understanding of the regional incidence of cancer and suggesting preventive measures and screening tools, a further purpose is to examine possible occupational, environmental and behavioral factors, such as smoking, that may underlie elevated rates, Hutton said.

Although Long Island has long been known as a region where breast cancer has been particularly elevated, Hutton said state epidemiologists did not find that form of cancer to be at a rate beyond what is considered statistically expected.

Long Island was one of four regions targeted for study in the statewide initiative, which was first announced last fall by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

“We are fortunate in New York State to have one of the highest quality cancer registries in the country,” Dr. Howard Zucker, State Health Commissioner said in a statement.

“This well-established record, as well as local level data analysis to examine patterns and trends in these communities, will help to further inform our cancer control strategies and improve patient outcomes by promoting access to appropriate care,” Zucker said.

Communities were identified for investigation based on their ranking in the state cancer registry, or by applying statistical techniques at the neighborhood level, which helped identify areas that have higher than expected rates of cancer.

“It’s never good hearing about cancer rates increasing anywhere, especially in your own backyard. But it’s important to find the patterns,” said Abby Melendez, who with her husband, Miguel, runs a thyroid cancer support group in Baldwin called ThyCa Long Island.

Melendez, a 20-year survivor of the disease, said her meetings have far more women than men, an observation supported by data from the American Cancer Society, which has estimated in 2018, 40,900 women will develop the cancer nationwide compared with 13,090 men.

Staten Island, which has the highest incidence rate for all forms of cancer in the five New York City boroughs, was targeted as a region in the initiative. Although numerous forms of the disease were found to be elevated, the state investigation is riveted on Staten Island’s high rate of thyroid cancer, which was significantly elevated compared with the state as a whole.

Upstate Warren County was chosen because it had the highest incidence rate for all forms of cancer in New York, including brain tumors. East Buffalo and Western Cheektowaga in Erie County had six forms of cancer that had higher than expected rates, state health department data showed.

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