Lung deaths tops in Mass. cancer study
Lung cancer continues to kill more people in Massachusetts than any other type of cancer, and the incidence of the smoking-related killer is rising among women, according to figures released yesterday by the state Department of Public Health.
Another cancer, melanoma, is increasing in both men and women, the statistics reveal. Incidence of the often deadly skin cancer, caused in part by excessive sun exposure in susceptible people, rose by about 21 percent in men and 13 percent in women over the past four years.
The Cancer Incidence and Mortality report from the state cancer registry covers the period from 1993 to 1997, the most recent available, and is based on reports from 83 hospitals in Massachusetts.
Dr. Howard Koh, the state health commissioner, said the rise in melanoma in both sexes, as well as the lung cancer rate in women, ''is striking and ironic, because these are two thoroughly preventable cancers.'' The continued upturn in female lung cancer, he added, ''is the tragic end result of targeting of women by the tobacco industry'' in advertising cigarettes.
The patterns of cancer in Massachusetts parallel national trends, Koh said in an interview.
A turnaround in overall cancer mortality first observed a few years ago continues, with cancer deaths dropping 6.4 percent in Massachusetts during the four-year period.
About 31,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed in the Commonwealth each year, and about 13,000 people die of the disease. The report noted:
An increase of 12.8 percent in lung cancer cases in women, contrasted with a 5.7 percent decrease in males, among whom smoking rates have been dropping for a number of years.
Melanoma increased in males by 20.9 percent and in females by 13.3 percent. Health authorities are emphasizing a ''safe sun strategy'' by minimizing sun exposure and using sunblock and protective clothing, said Koh.
The rate of breast cancer rose slightly during the period, by 1.2 percent.
The cancer registry figures have not been broken out by various localities, so they don't provide any new information on the elevated levels of breast cancer that are being studied in some parts of the state, including Newton, Cape Cod, and parts of the Berkshires.
Prostate cancer, the leading non-skin cancer in males, showed a slight decline.
Colorectal cancer dropped 7 percent in males and rose 1.5 percent in females.
Uterine cancer in women remained stable while bladder cancer in men increased 6 percent.
Among men, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, an immune system cancer, increased almost 4 percent during the period.
Koh said Massachusetts is one of six states that received federal grants to create a statewide cancer control program that will integrate efforts in cancer education and prevention and will attempt to uncover environmental and genetic causes of cancer. As part of the plan, the state will establish a Web site where people will have access to a wide range of cancer information.