GLENS FALLS — Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced at Glens Falls Hospital on Wednesday a new statewide initiative aimed at determining why there is a 20 percent disparity in cancer rates between Warren County residents and New York City residents.

“Warren County has one of the highest rates of cancer in this state. New York City has some of the lowest rates of cancer in the state. Erie County, Buffalo, just under Warren County. … Why? What is the difference? What’s going on in Warren County that’s different than what’s going on in Queens and Brooklyn?” Cuomo asked. “There has to be an answer.”

State Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury, introduced the governor, talking about his commitment to Warren County.

“He has made investments in our economy and we were the first city to get $10 million to revitalize the city,” she said referring to Glens Falls. “And the hospital got a $20 million grant from the governor; look at all we can do with this.”

Little continued: “Cancer is a scourge in America and has taken the lives of too many. There are 1 million people in New York living with a cancer diagnosis.”

Cuomo opened his presentation by thanking Glens Falls Hospital staff for their work and dedication to patients.

“The topic today is a serious one. It’s one we live with. The good news is we’re proud of what the state is doing on this topic. We’re making it better. Topic is cancer. The C word. It’s a word that nobody wants to hear, it’s a word that you have to deal with every day and I don’t know where you find the intestinal strength to do that every day,” Cuomo said to a packed room of more than 150, primarily comprised of hospital staff.

“My family has always been involved in fighting cancer, even when I was a young kid. My mother was very involved as a volunteer in the American Cancer Society. I have an older sister who is a doctor. She is the smart one, Margaret.”

According to Cuomo, there are 110,000 new cancer cases diagnosed every year in the state and 35,000 people die.

The New York State Cancer Registry collects reports on cancer diagnoses from health care providers, which include the anatomical sites of tumors, the stages at diagnosis, the cell types of the cancer as well as the treatment information and demographic information of those diagnosed with cancer.

Using New York’s cancer registry, the Department of Health identified the counties with the highest cancer rates in the state and New York City and will begin this new initiative by focusing on four regions of the state.

“The question for us is always, ‘What else can we do?’ Because the numbers are still terrible. … We have about 1 million people in this state who are living with cancer, maybe in remission, but you either have or had cancer,” Cuomo said. “When a family member comes home with that diagnosis, it just changes the family’s life. It’s like a shadow that is there all the time. … It ruins as well as ends so many lives. I want to make sure that everything we can possibly do, we are doing. And we are.”

Talking about early breast cancer detection, Cuomo said New York has the most aggressive screening program and laws in the nation. Women living in the state said the cost and time were keeping them from routine screening, so the state made it easier for women, Cuomo said.

“We eliminated any co-pay for a woman for any breast screening test or follow-up test,” he said to audience applause. “We also have clinics that have to be open beyond nine to five, and on the weekends, so women can actually get the screening done. We call it the ‘no excuses campaign.’”

Over the next year, researchers will examine cancer trends and the potential causes of cancer in four regions across the state, including Warren County. The Department of Health will review cancer data, potential demographic and occupational factors and will consult with the DEC on environmental factors contributing to patterns of cancer incidences in the state.This new data-driven effort will help identify the central causes leading to higher rates of cancer in certain regions and, ultimately, help develop the most effective programs to prevent and treat cancer.

According to Cuomo, the state is budgeting up to $500,000 to conduct the regional studies, with results expected in one year.

“For the first time ever, the state is going to undertake a study … in four clusters of the state. Capital District, Glens Falls/Warren County, Western New York, New York City and Long Island, because those are the places of the deviation.” Cuomo said. “The Department of Health and DEC both, because there could be environmental factors at play here also, will participate in this study. It will take about one year and the question is very simple. What is driving that deviation?”

During Wednesday’s presentation, Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said that information is a key weapon in New York.

“We track down certain regions and some are hit harder than other areas,” he said.

Cuomo joked about the one-year deadline.

“I’m proud of Commissioner Zucker and proud of Commissioner Seggos. We should have a study in about a year. I told the commissioners that if they don’t have a cure at the end of the year, we are going to cut their salary in half. No performance bonus for them and no vacation, and whatever other things I can think of to torture them I will do,” he said laughing. “So, seriously, I applaud them for their creativity and their thoughtfulness, and hopefully it will be another positive step down a long road.”

Additionally, while at Glens Falls Hospital, Cuomo addressed several other issues, including the uncertain future of the nation’s health care and the potential loss of funding for the Children’s Health Initiative Program.

“Back story about CHIP: It was started in the state of New York. There was a governor named Mario Cuomo. And he started a child health insurance program for poor children. President Clinton came in, said ‘I want to copy your program and bring it nationwide.’ My father said fine, just make sure you give me credit,” he said. “Clinton never gave him credit, but that’s politics. And it’s been in existence ever since. And now, for the first time ever, they want to eliminate that program. Just think about that: 300,000 children without health insurance in this state. So, we have a lot of challenges, and I know you’re dealing with them every day.”

Kathleen Phalen-Tomaselli is a features writer at The Post-Star. She can be reached at kphalen-tomaselli@poststar.com for comments or story ideas.

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