The region’s taste for cigarettes is fueling its highest-in-the-state cancer rate, according to a study released by the state Department of Health.
State officials will hold a meeting at SUNY Adirondack on Nov. 7 from 7 to 9 p.m. to go over the findings.
But in the 14-page executive summary, they made it clear they believe smoking is the main culprit.
Most of the patients in Warren County who had oral cancer, esophageal cancer, laryngeal cancer and lung cancer were smokers, according to the state’s study of cancer patient demographics.
The state looked at oral cancer, colorectal cancer, laryngeal cancer, lung cancer, brain cancer and thyroid cancer, because patients in Warren County were diagnosed at a statistically significantly higher rate than in the state, excluding New York City.
The state also looked at esophageal cancer, melanoma of the skin and leukemia, because the Warren County rate was significantly higher than the state rate (not excluding New York City).
As researchers looked closely at the demographics for each patient diagnosed with each cancer, they kept finding the same risk factor: smoking.
Not only were most patients smokers, but the types of each cancer were the types most commonly caused by smoking.
In lung cancer, the researchers found that the types of cancer that are not associated with smoking were not happening more often in Warren County than in other parts of the state. The types of lung cancer that were happening more often here were the smoking-related types.
“Rates of the three major subtypes of lung cancer that are strongly associated with smoking were significantly elevated (i.e., squamous cell, small cell, and large cell carcinomas),” the summary said.
Both lung cancer and laryngeal cancer rates have been decreasing in the rest of the state. In Warren County, the rate has remained steady.
The state’s cancer study also found that excellent health care has played a part in Warren County’s higher-than-normal cancer rates.
Researchers blamed smoking.
“In Warren County, almost all laryngeal cancer patients were current or former tobacco users,” the summary said. . “An overwhelming majority of lung cancer patients in Warren County had a history of tobacco use at some time in their life, with the highest percentages among patients with small cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, the two subtypes most strongly related to cigarette smoking.”
The same held true for other cancers.
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“Most of the elevation in esophageal cancer was of the squamous cell carcinoma type, and most Warren County men diagnosed with this cancer were current or former smokers,” the summary reported.
Oral cancer patients also had “squamous cell carcinomas.”
“It is likely that a higher proportion of current and former tobacco use contributed to the elevated rates of lung, laryngeal, esophageal and oral cancers in Warren County, which are four cancers most strongly associated with tobacco use,” the summary said.
Researchers concluded that people need to stop smoking.
“If you use tobacco, quit. If you don’t use tobacco, don’t start,” the summary said in a section labeled as “for all New Yorkers.” The summary specified that smokers need to stop getting tobacco from vaping too.
But Gansevoort resident Ann Nicholson, whose family lives in Warren County, doubted the results.
“My grandfather passed away from cancer and never smoked,” she said. “My mother stopped smoking 40 years ago and died last year of esophogeal cancer.”
She smokes and acknowledged that it’s a dangerous activity.
“Smoking is definitely a problem,” she said.
Queensbury resident Delia Harrington said she’s going to try to quit.
“I’m definitely going to quit by the time I’m 30. When I’m going to have a baby, that’s it,” she said. “I’ve actually quit a few times and ended up going back. I know it’s bad.”
She uses cigarettes to cope with anxiety, she said, adding that probably many people in Warren County do the same.
“A lot of people say they smoke because of stress. You grow up in that lower class and your parents smoke and you start smoking,” she said.
At meetings on the topic last year, residents questioned whether air pollution from local businesses could be part of the problem.
The summary discounts air pollution, saying it is actually not as bad in Warren County as it is elsewhere in the state.
“Exposure to air pollutants has been associated with lung cancer. Review of the modeled data showed that cancer risks from inhalation exposure to hazardous air pollutants were lower or similar to levels in New York state excluding New York City. Furthermore, the proportion of residents who live in proximity to high traffic roads was lower in Warren County. Therefore, available data on outdoor air quality indicate that air pollution is unlikely to explain the elevated lung cancer rates in Warren County,” the summary said.