Study Raises Questions About Local Cancer Rates

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Loudon, Loudon County (WVLT) - More questions than answers from a state agency report on cancer amongst Tennesseans and how we match up to the national average.

No clear cut answers from this study.

The cancer incidence and mortality rates are for the years 1999 through 2003.

The data from 8 local counties is compared to the national rate by using data from the American Cancer Society.

Nationally, the Cancer Registry says Tennesseans are comparing well, but there is at least one group that is questioning the government funded study.

The Tennessee Cancer Registry, an branch of the State Health Department, compiled data received from healthcare facilities across the state for it's annual report.

First, the good news.

Area lung, prostate, breast and colo-rectal cancer rates were compared with national rates.

First, for men: the total number for all cancers combined in Loudon and Roane counties were the same as the national rate which is about 560 for every 100,000 men.

For women in Loudon, Roane and in this case, Meigs, county as well, a like number to the national average which is about 400 cases of cancer for every 100,000 women.

While the exact numbers for Knox County are not yet tabulated, the center says the cancer rates were significantly lower than the national average. This was also the case for Blount, Morgan and Rhea counties. Surprisingly to some, Anderson County, home of the Oak Ridge nuclear facilities also had a cancer rate lower than the national norm.

"If the rate is obviously significantly above the national average then that would be a reason for concern." Director of the office of Cancer Surveillance Martin Whiteside says.

Now the bad news.

Significantly higher lung cancer rates are shown in Blount, Knox, Loudon and Roane counties for men.

In women, Roane County showed higher rates for lung cancer.

The reason? You may have already guessed it.

"I would expect that most of these are probably due to an increase in smoking rates," Whiteside.

But Shirley Harrison and Pat Hunter with Clean Air Friends say they're skeptical about the data.

"We don't have any answers, the study should be able to pinpoint to find out if it's an environmental issue, or what the problem is," says Pat Hunter, from Clean Air Friends.

Whiteside says healthcare facilities don't always report cancer cases, making compilation difficult.

Hunter says the devil is in the data collection.

"We're certainly pleased that the standing is better, however, we are concerned about the data with regard to the collection in itself," Hunter says.

The percentage of Tennesseans with breast, prostate and colo-rectal cancers was similar to the national average, or significantly lower.

Whiteside says to speculate on the reason for that would be just that, speculation.