By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Hill County's death rate from breast cancer in recent years is the highest in Montana, indicating a need for better early detection and screening, a Havre patholgist told county officials Wednesday.
Dr. Predrag Latkovich began to analyze cancer data after attending a county environmental health committee meeting last March. Some participants were concerned that Hill County may have a high rate of cancer.
Hill County's overall cancer rates were slightly higher than that of the nation and the state, he said, but the county's small population is a factor that skews the numbers. The most recent data available was from 2002. He examined 30 years of data on Hill County.
"I don't think there's anything disturbing here," he said about the county's overall cancer rate.
An average of 80 new cancer cases are diagnosed in Hill County every year. That translate to a rate of 495.5 cases per 100,000 people, compared to a state rate of 472.1 cases per 100,000 people. The national rate is 464.2. He said the county's rate is statistically similar to the state and national rates.
Three deaths from breast cancer were reported between 1997 and 2001, which translate to a rate of 34 for every 100,000 women, and another two women died in 2002, a year when 17 new cases were diagnosed, Latkovich said. In Montana, the rate was 23.6 deaths per 100,000. The national rate was 27.8 deaths.
Hill County was number five in the state for lung cancer deaths among men between 1997 and 2001 and ranked 10th for women. Latkovich blamed smoking.
In 2002, 10 cases of lung cancer were diagnosed and 10 patients died. He said he suspects those who died were the same people who were diagnosed that year. Lung cancer is among the most deadly types of cancer, but there is a 15 percent survival rate nationally, he said. The deaths are an indication that the cancers were detected late.
"We have to start picking up the patients early on," he said.
Mert Freyholtz had attended last year's meeting and expressed concern that his community, Gildford, may have a high cancer rate. He said Wednesday that there were six new cases this year in Gildford.
Latkovich said his study was preliminary and that he'd like to continue to see more data. The number Freyholtz named was upsetting, but not necessarily unexpected, he said.
According to cancer rates nationwide, a man who lives to old age has a 50 percent chance of developing cancer and a woman has a 33 percent chance, Latkovich said.
Gildford probably has an elderly population, Freyholtz said.
Freyholtz also mentioned concern over an increased cancer rate in agricultural communities, which Latkovich agreed is a problem. Education on the use of farm chemicals might be a way to combat that, Latkovich suggested.
In the future, he said, he could ask the Montana Central Tumor Registry, which supplied much of his data, to do more collecting about patients' backgrounds. But the effect of chemicals in the environment is difficult to judge, he warned.
He said today that agriculture chemicals are proven to cause cancer, but none of the data he looked at for Hill County suggested that a link between agriculture and cancer here.
From the numbers he saw in his study, the most important lesson would be to encourage screening, he said.
According to statistics from the American Cancer Society, 79 percent of Montana women older than 50 have received a mammogram in the past two years. He said he suspects the number is lower in Hill County.
In Montana, only 43 percent of people older than 50 had ever had a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy.
The pap smear test, which is given regularly in the state, is among the least expensive tests, he said.
Women between the ages of 50 and 64 who would like a free mammogram or pap smear can do so through the Family Planning office of the Hill County Health Department. The office can be reached at 265-5481, ext. 256.