Blair Horner: New York's cancer burden

Cancer takes a staggering toll on New Yorkers.  More than 107,000 New Yorkers were diagnosed with cancer in 2011, and more than 34,000 died from the disease.  A different perspective is that roughly 2,000 New Yorkers are diagnosed with cancer and 660 individuals die from cancer each week.

And four major cancers – of the prostate, breast, lung and colon – account for more than half of all cancer diagnoses and nearly half of all cancer deaths.  Prostate cancer is New York’s most common cancer with nearly 16,000 New Yorkers getting a diagnosis.  Lung cancer is the largest cancer killer, causing nearly 9,000 deaths last year.

These findings were part of a report released by the American Cancer Society.  The report, “The Cancer Burden in New York State,” not only quantified the total number of cancer cases and deaths, but did a county by county comparison as well. 

For example, in Albany County, over 1,700 residents received a cancer diagnosis in 2011, with over 600 dying from the disease.  Schenectady County saw nearly 900 cancer cases with over 350 deaths. 

The report found that New York had a cancer rate that was higher than the rest of the nation.  However, when comparing New York City, the rest of New York State, and the nation as a whole, the report identified a key finding – New York City’s cancer rate is lower than the rest of the state as well as lower than the national average.

Upstaters faced higher cancer rates than downstaters, which is largely attributable to a significant difference in lung cancer prevalence.   When the report compared lung cancer statistics for upstate New York with the rates of smoking, the report found that – not surprisingly – the higher number of lung cancer cases tracked higher smoking rates in upstate counties. 

Essentially, the American Cancer Society’s analysis showed a “tale of two states.”   When examining only the non-New York City part of the state, cancer rates and deaths rates exceeded the national average.  New York City’s lower cancer rates – particularly its significantly lower lung cancer rates – are lower than the national average.

The report argues that the lower lung cancer rates in the New York City area are the result of the region’s decades-long efforts to reduce tobacco use among its residents.

The American Cancer Society recommends a number of steps to reduce the number of cancer cases and deaths as well as to ease the discomfort of cancer patients.  Those proposals include:

·         Create policies and laws that prevent cancer, such as reversing the decline in funding for the New York State Tobacco Control Program.

·         Enhance early detection of cancer by adequately funding the New York State Cancer Services Program that provides free breast, cervical and colon cancer screening to the uninsured.

·         Ease the economic toll of cancer by ensuring that all New Yorkers have access to quality, affordable health insurance coverage.

·         Improve patients’ quality of life through better palliative care and pain management, and enhanced health care provider education.

The report can be found at

While there are many reasons why people get cancer, there are some things that can be done to drastically reduce the disease’s burden on New York State – slashing tobacco use should be job one for policymakers.  Here’s hoping that the report jump starts a statewide discussion on how to reduce cancer incidence, identify cancers earlier, and to assist those in treatment.

Blair Horner is the Vice President for Advocacy for the American Cancer Society, Eastern Division.  His commentary does not necessarily reflect the views of the American Cancer Society.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect the views of this station or its management.