State health officials headed to Buffalo to find clues about ‘cancer hotspot’

Jul 18, 2018

Credit Avery Schneider / Google Maps

State health officials will visit Buffalo Thursday, seeking answers on what’s making a community in Western New York a cancer hotspot.

In early July, the State Department of Health identified four cancer hotspots across New York State – Warren County, just over an hour north of Albany; Staten Island in New York City; a cluster of three towns in Long Island’s Suffolk County. The fourth lies on the border of Buffalo and Cheektowaga.

In the area surrounded by the Kensington Expressway, the state Thruway and Walden Avenue, six types of cancer have been found at high rates, including colorectal, esophageal, kidney, lung, oral and prostate cancer. Now, the DOH is coming to Buffalo seeking the public’s help in figuring out why.

“It’s important to understand that there could be simple answers to why there’s a higher rate. It might be because there’s a higher concentration of older people in a particular neighborhood, or it could be because there are more smokers. But it also might be that there’s some kind of an environmental factor,” said Jo Freudenheim, Chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions.

Freudenheim is not affiliated with the state’s investigation, but has experience studying the causes of cancer. She said when talking to people about it, it’s important to approach the subject carefully, not wanting to scare them, but also not wanting to make it seem like there isn’t a problem.

When the Department of Health’s team meets the public on Thursday evening at the Buffalo Museum of Science, they’ll likely have to do just that. But this meeting won’t be about providing answers to the problem just yet, according to Brad Hutton, Deputy Commissioner for the DOH’s Office of Public Health.

“We will be giving a brief presentation on the information that we have to-date from our cancer registry, [and] on the process going forward that we’re going to undertake to conduct our investigation, our review,” said Hutton.

That review begins with asking residents what local factors they think might be impacting cancer rates and what the focus of the investigation should be. They’ll take the information and compile it with data from environmental and occupational factors, healthcare utilization, behavioral risks and demographics to create a “cancer profile.” By the end of the calendar year, the department is expected to return to the community with results and recommendations.

The meeting on Thursday is open to the public and Hutton hopes residents from the hotspot area attend. It takes place from 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. at the Buffalo Museum of Science. No RSVP is required. More information is available here.