Study: Southern N.J. lung cancer rates worse than Northern N.J.

TRENTON – Cancer rates – and mortality rates – in Southern New Jersey are worse than in Northern New Jersey, and lung cancer is a major reason why.

Those are among the findings of a new study released today by the American Cancer Society of New Jersey and New York.

“We wanted to see what the cancer burden was in New Jersey,” said Blair Horner, vice president of the Cancer Society.

“Our analysis shows a tale of two states,’’ he said.

What the Society hopes is that its findings will lead New Jersey to reinvest more money into tobacco control and smoking cessation programs.

Overall, the study found that in 2011 there were more than 49,000 new diagnoses of cancer, with more than 16,000 deaths.

The top four cancers were prostate, breast, lung and colon, with lung cancer the deadliest, killing more than 4,100 people, according to the first-ever study of this kind the Society did.

Income and age are some of the possible factors at work, according to Horner and Ethan Hasbrouck, the Society’s advocacy director.

Income levels in the northern part of the state tend to be higher than in the southern part, they said. In addition, for years New York City has been in the forefront of anti-smoking programs, and those efforts at education and prohibition may have helped contribute to lower smoking rates in Northern New Jersey as well as the southern portion of New York state.

Regarding the factor of age, many cancers are diagnosed when people are over age 60, and since portions of Southern New Jersey have a higher proportion of older residents, the data in the study has been age-adjusted, Horner said.

Even so, “Downstaters face higher cancer rates than upstaters,” he said.

“Lung cancer is the driving factor in the difference between Northern and Southern New Jersey,” he said.  Among people earning less than $15,000 a year, the smoking rate has increased over the last 10 years, according to the study, “The Cancer Burden in New Jersey.’’

And Hasbrouck said that “it underlines the need for a comprehensive tobacco control program.”

New Jersey spends about $1.5 million on such efforts, when in 2003 it spent approximately $30 million, the Society officials said. The state needs to spend more, they said.

And while the Centers for Disease Control recommends spending $119 million, the Society recognizes that is not going to occur.  But New Jersey does take in over $1 billion annually in cigarette sales taxes and from the multistate tobacco court case settlement, Horner and Hasbrouck said.

Horner did give credit to the state for boosting support in this year’s budget by $3.5 million, to $9.5 million, for the N.J. Cancer Education and Early Detection screening program.

In light of the fact that lung cancer disproportionately affects lower-income residents – according to the study, almost one-third of cancer patients overall face health care costs exceeding 10 percent of their family income – the Society urged the state to follow up on the Affordable Care Act’s provision for increased access to care via insurance exchanges.

The high cost of treating cancer is “a leading cause of bankruptcy” for middle- and lower-income residents, Horner said.

More than 1.3 million residents lack health insurance, the study reported.

A Health Care Exchange Act did pass the Legislature in the last session, but the governor conditionally vetoed it at the time, in part, because the Supreme Court had not issued its ruling on the health care overhaul.

Skin cancer

Melanoma was No. 5 on the study’s list of cancers, and the Society renewed its call for the state to prohibit indoor tanning bed use by young people.

A bill that would have banned such use by those under age `18 was amended heavily in the previous legislative session, and since melanoma is the fastest-growing cancer, the state must take strong steps to combat its spread among younger residents, Horner said.

Study: Southern N.J. lung cancer rates worse than Northern N.J.