Cancer has moved ahead of heart disease as the leading cause of death in some New York state counties, including Livingston, Monroe, Schuyler, Tioga, Tompkins and Wayne.
That’s according to 2011 age-adjusted vital statistics at the county level released in March by New York’s Department of Health. Age-adjusted death rates are used to make more accurate comparisons among communities with different age compositions, according to the state health department’s website.
Although heart disease has long been the top killer, death rates from heart disease have dropped substantially over the past decade, while death rates from cancer have dropped slightly, due to advances in treatment, early detection and preventive lifestyle changes, according to information from the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to New York’s vital statistics, annual deaths from heart disease dropped from 56,494 in 2002 to 43,959 in 2011. Annual deaths from cancer in the state dropped from 36,473 in 2002 to 35,032 in 2011. From 2002 to 2011, age-adjusted rates for heart disease deaths dropped from 277 to 191 per 100,000, while age-adjusted rates for cancer deaths dropped from 183 to 159 per 100,000.
One reason for declines in cancer deaths is an increase in early diagnoses, cancer society officials said.
"The earlier (cancer is) caught, the better the outcome," said Amy S. Voelkl, director of the Decision Support team for the Lakes Region Office of the American Cancer Society in Rochester.
Yet the rate of early diagnosis varies due to race, ethnicity, socioeconomic factors and cultural issues, said Nicole LaRose, community mission manager for the cancer society’s regional office. In Monroe County, 70 percent of white patients’ breast cancers are caught at an early stage, while 59 percent of black patients’ breast cancers are caught at an early stage. In Monroe County, 48 percent of colorectal cancer in white female patients is caught early, as compared to only 42 percent in black patients and 41 percent in Hispanic patients, according to 2006-10 data.
Cultural and socioeconomic disparities also exist in treatment, leading to disparities in mortality rates, LaRose said. For example, while death rates have dropped for nearly all types of cancers and among all races and ethnicities, Hispanic/Latinos in Monroe County have seen a 14.5 percent increase in mortality rates from colorectal cancer.
"Depending on socioeconomic circumstances, a patient may have better access to treatments or in some cases may not have access to the treatments," LaRose said. "That’s creating disparity right there."
LaRose said some people may not be aware that free screenings for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer for uninsured and underinsured individuals — as well as legal and supportive services — are made available in every county through the New York department of health’s cancer services program. Call toll free 1-866-442-2262 for details.
In addition to getting screenings when recommended, patients can make lifestyle changes to dramatically reduce their cancer risk.
"Two out of three cancers can be prevented through diet, physical activity and not smoking," LaRose said. "One-third of cancers are caused by smoking."
Quitting smoking is among seven main lifestyle changes for improved cardiovascular health recommended by the American Heart Association. The others — "Life’s Simple Seven" — are: get active, lose weight, eat better, manage blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and reduce blood sugar, said Jennifer Pratt, senior regional director of communications for the heart association and the American Stroke Association. More information is available at www.mylifecheck.org.
In addition to promoting lifestyle changes, the heart association promotes hospital-based quality improvement programs, CPR education, health policy advocacy, increased availability of Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) and the promotion of healthy habits for young people, Pratt said in a statement.
One local Catholic fighting cancer says people should not forget to pray, in addition to focusing on prevention. Diagnosed this spring with a stage 4 recurrence of breast cancer that had spread to her bones, Kathy Worboys of Honeoye Falls said she is fighting her disease with prayer and pain relief. That also is the prescription for Virginia Tondryk, a friend and fellow prayer group member who was diagnosed with leukemia on the same day Worboys learned her cancer had returned.
Worboys and Tondryk, both members of St. Paul of the Cross Parish in Honeoye Falls, say they rely on their prayer group, Daughters of the Blessed Mother, to help support them through daily difficulties.
"I shouldn’t even be here," Worboys said, noting that she was marking six months since her diagnosis.
She said she is unafraid of death.
"It’s a win-win situation," Worboys said. "If I die, I get to be with Jesus. If I live, I get to be with my family. I don’t want to die, but I’m not afraid to."