Does where you live increase your chances of getting cancer? New data indicates it certainly plays a role. Some of our local counties have some of the highest rates of cancer in all of New York State and health professionals are still trying to find out why. Our news partner, News10NBC has a special report:
ROCHESTER—Does where you live increase your chances of getting cancer? New data indicates it certainly plays a role. Some of our local counties have some of the highest rates of cancer in all of New York State and health professionals are still trying to find out why. Governor Andrew Cuomo has directed the state health department to undertake a study to determine why there are deviations in cancer rates across New York.
Melanie Haers was 30 years old, with a one-month-old daughter when she had a seizure in the middle of the night and was rushed to the hospital. "They did a scan and the doctor walked in and said you have a tumor on the left side of your brain,” she tells News10NBC. No signs, no symptoms, an otherwise healthy young woman had brain cancer, “my heart is like... who is going to raise my daughter,” Melanie recalls.
She had surgery, then chemo, then radiation, all the while thinking about how badly she wanted to have another child for her daughters sake. "She has a lot of cousins and my husband is a wonderful father but there is no bond like having a sibling and so, if I pass away, I want that connection for them,” she recalls thinking.
As rare as Melanie’s situation sounds, it’s not. Ontario County, where she lives, has one of the highest rates of brain cancer in all of New York State. “I think anyone who gets cancer asks why and they search their background for reasons,” says Dr. Nancy Bennett, Director of the Center for Community Health at URMC. But it’s not always easy to find an answer, “probably 30% of our health is determined by genetics, probably another 40% of our health is determined by our behaviors and probably 10-15% is caused by our environment,” Dr. Bennett adds.
Recently released maps, compiled by the NYS Health Department, break down the counties with the highest rates of different cancers. Monroe County has one of the highest rates of breast cancer in all of New York, Ontario County has high rates of brain, liver, skin and ovarian cancer. Rates of oral, esophageal, colon, pancreatic, laryngeal, breast, uterine, kidney and brain cancer are well above the state-wide average in Wyoming County.
“We have to work to understand how can we influence those numbers, how can we provide education, work with our primary care providers to make sure they're dialoging with their patients about cancer risks,” says Laura Paolucci, the Wyoming County Public Health Administrator. But what is it about Wyoming County that seems to make people more susceptible to cancer? Researchers and doctors say it’s likely a combination of many factors. Wyoming is a rural county with an aging population and a lot of poverty. More than 25 percent of the people who live there smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol. Most also work agricultural jobs which can expose them not only to the sun but to certain chemicals.
News10NBC: "This map (from the NYS Health Department) shows 50% of the people in Wyoming County likely have radon in their basements right now, does that mean they are more susceptible to certain cancers?"
Dr. Nancy Bennett: "Because it's such a complex interaction you can't really take population level data and zero it down to one person. So, yes your risk of cancer is going to be increased if you have radon in your house and you're exposed to it for a certain period of time but how much time? When were you exposed? We're pretty sure most exposures are more of a concern when you're young compared to when you're old, there are many factors that need to be considered."
The research is still underway and while doctors work to be able to pinpoint more direct lines between environmental exposures and cancer, Melanie wants you to keep one thing in mind: "You are your own statistic, that's the best advice I've gotten because it's true…I'm almost 8 years later, 2 kids and going strong,” she says.
The biggest thing, no matter where you live, is making sure you have annual check-ups with your doctor and annual screenings.
Click here to review the maps
For more information:
A number of the cancers most common locally can also be caused by smoking. If you need help quitting click here.
UR Medicine Breast Imaging and the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester is offering free annual mammograms to women age 40 and older on Saturday, October 28 from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Highland Breast Imaging at Red Creek. The event will be held at Calkins Corporate Park, 500 Red Creek Drive, Suite 130 in Henrietta. Appointments are required. To schedule a mammogram, call (585) 487-3304. Transportation is available for those who may need it and financial assistance is available to women with high deductible plans.