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High cancer rates in Nova Scotia


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High cancer rates in Nova Scotia spark province-wide research program


The Cape Breton Post

By Tom Ayers


SYDNEY — According to the Canadian Cancer Society’s national statistical release Wednesday, Nova Scotia has the most new cancer cases in the country for both men and women, and the highest cancer death rate in Canada for women and second-highest death rate for men.

“We have about 20 per cent more cancer than any other province,” said Dr. Louise Parker, a Dalhousie professor and the Canadian Cancer Society Nova Scotia division chair in population health research.

She is planning a six-year research program to try to understand why.

Parker said she has a large map in her office identifying all of the cancer research in the province and is looking to identify gaps and trends.

Worldwide research has identified causes, but the key is to determine locally which ones have the most significant effects and then take action to try to reverse the problem.

She is considering risk factors such as obesity and the role of diet and physical activity, and environmental factors, including exposure to radon gas and arsenic, as well as smoking and other known cancer causes.

“It won’t be just one thing,” she said. “It may be related to obesity, it may be potentially arsenic, it may be potentially radon, it may be other things, I don’t know.”

The causes of cancer are complex and varied, said Parker, noting that genetics also play a significant role.

“I think these are all targets,” she said. “We don’t know exactly how important they are” in Nova Scotia, though, Parker added.

“If you sort of look at a Google Earth sort of approach looking at the big picture ... we want to drill down to a local level,” Parker said.

She hasn’t limited the scope of her research to any one area, however Parker said there are three reasons why obesity will likely be a focus. We know that Nova Scotians are among the most obese people in Canada, she said, and we know that provincial cancer rates are among the highest in the country, and we know that obesity is a cause of cancer.

Obesity also causes many other health problems, too, including diabetes and early death.

“I think obesity is a problem anyway... so we should be finding ways to tackle that,” said Parker.

As a research chair, Parker plans to collaborate with existing researchers and health authorities in order to get a better handle on the provincial cancer picture, and will be making an announcement in Cape Breton in the coming months.

“The research program that we’re embarking upon will involve and engage Cape Breton,” she said.

Provincial highlights from the national statistics:

• Approximately 3.5 per cent of all new cancer cases in Canada — an estimated 5,800 Nova Scotians — will be diagnosed in 2008, and 2,650 will die from the disease.

• Nova Scotia has the second-highest mortality rates from colorectal cancer in Canada, second only to Newfoundland and Labrador.

• Nova Scotia has the highest lung cancer mortality rate among females in Canada.

• The cervical cancer incidence rate is higher in Nova Scotia than any other province.

Source: Canadian Cancer Society — Nova Scotia Division


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