Suburban Counties Report Higher Cancer Incidence Rates

October 20, 2021

In both Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island, the all cancer incidence rate (2015 – 2017) per 100,000 of the population is higher than the state rate, according to the state’s Community Health Indicator Reports. The situation worsens when we look at the age-adjusted rates, where the rate is above that of New York State. That finding gels with the concern residents expressed about cancer incidence in a recent survey conducted by the Long Island Health Collaborative (LIHC). 

The Community Health Assessment Survey (English Version) and Spanish version , is an ongoing survey that collects zip code-level, primary data about Long Islanders’ health concerns for themselves and their communities. The data is used by hospitals, county health departments, community-based organizations and other social and health services providers to offer programs that best meet the needs of local communities. 

Granted, the Long Island survey reports on perception and, historically, there have been gains in cancer mortality through the years due to better and earlier screenings, advanced therapies and interventions, and more widespread insurance coverage. The state’s Community Health Indicator Reports bear witness to this, as the all cancer mortality rate (2015 – 2017) per 100,000 is at or below that of the state’s rate for all but three counties. Suffolk County’s age-adjusted mortality rate just eclipses the state rate.

Cancer as Chronic Condition

Physicians will tell you that more and more cancers are becoming chronic conditions and are treated as such.  They will also tell you that certain modifiable risk behaviors, such as lack of exercise, poor diet, smoking tobacco, among others, are running up the numbers of cancer diagnoses.  The hospital systems on Long Island all either have dedicated cancer institutes or units focusing on these intractable but treatable conditions.  Most also offer adjunct therapies ranging from nutrition counseling to mindfulness training to help with fitness goals.

Pandemic’s Effect

The Long Island survey analyzed data collected during 2020.  Many individuals delayed care during this time, including routine cancer screenings.  It is too soon to look at data that would give us some insight regarding cancer incidence and care delay.  It will be interesting to see if the pandemic had any effect on the gains made in reducing cancer incidence and mortality.  We already know that life expectancy declined 1.5 years from 2019 to 2020, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.  The drop in life expectancy in 2020 was the largest one-year decline since World War II, when life expectancy declined 2.9 years between 1942 and 1943.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), one in three people will be diagnosed with a cancer in their lifetime.  Cancer is the second leading cause of death behind heart disease. 

Reducing Risk

Environmental exposures and genetics do play a role in cancer incidence. But an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise are equally to blame.  These, however, are modifiable risk factors.  If more people engage in healthier behaviors, outcomes will change over time as will perceptions about concerns.  Medical providers and public health experts in the Long Island region want to keep track of this hopeful trend, and it’s why residents are encouraged to complete the ongoing Community Health Assessment Survey online.   

Having said that, now is a good time to get back on track with your routine cancer screenings.  Contact your local hospital – some even offer convenient screenings in community settings, like libraries and churches – or connect with your primary care physician.