question cancer rates
Havre Daily News
A local pathologist has done a careful analysis of Hill County's cancer data and hasn't found too many causes for alarm. Northern Montana Hospital lab director Dr. Predrag Latkovich spoke to about 20 people Tuesday night asking and answering the question, "Does Hill County really have a cancer boogeyman?"
Though Latkovich answered no, saying Hill County's cancer incidence and death rates are statistically similar to national rates, he said there is more the county and its residents can do to promote early screening.
"You are your best doctor," Latkovich reminded the audience. A change in a skin lesion that could indicate skin cancer is the type of thing a doctor might not notice during an annual checkup but that people can easily notice themselves, Latkovich said. He told the audience not to wait for a doctor to raise a red flag if they have a concern.
Countywide, Latkovich said, people should take notice of a couple statistics.
Hill County has the highest breast cancer mortality rate among counties in the state. That indicates a need for early screening, he said.
"It's not a problem in what numbers we have, but at what stage we get these people," he said.
Locally, lung cancer mortality is also very high, he said. In 2002, 10 cases of lung cancer were diagnosed and there were 10 lung cancer deaths. While his data did not tell him those were necessarily the same 10 people, Latkovich said he suspected they were. Nationally, lung cancer has a high mortality rate, but Hill County can improve.
"That's really a disaster for this community," he said.
On the bright side, fewer women in Hill County contract lung cancer than do nationally and in the state, Latkovich said, and Hill County's incidences of all types of cancer were on par with other Montana counties. Only Custer and Silver Bow counties showed cancer rates that clearly exceeded the national average, Latkovich said.
Audience member Mert Freyholtz said he thought the Hi-Line has an unusually high number of cancer cases. He said he heard of six cases in Rudyard this year. Freyholtz said he thinks pesticides could play a role.
Montana State University-Northern campus nurse Sue Swan came to the meeting to talk about the anecdotal data she has collected through working with Relay for Life, an annual American Cancer Society fund-raiser in Havre. She also asked Latkovich about the effects of pesticides and diesel fuel.
Latkovich said determining the effects of chemicals is very difficult because farmers use so many and the chemicals interact with each other and change when they pass through the liver. Latkovich did say it becomes easier to see an effect if there is data that points to a problem.
"I'm not saying there's nothing there, but this data doesn't support it," he said.
Latkovich also said that among people who live to the average life expectancy, one in two men and one in three women nationwide will develop cancer at some point.
Swan started collecting cancer data by asking Relay for Life participants who are cancer survivors to provide information about the type of cancer they had. Swan warned that her data was not scientific, but it did reflect Latkovich's findings that prostate and breast cancer were the most common, as they are nationally, and that there have been no lung cancer survivors who participate in the annual event.
Hill County nurse Karen Sloan told the audience about a program through the County Health Department that will provide free mammograms and Pap tests for low-income women between the ages of 50 and 64 in Hill, Blaine and Phillips counties.
Participation in the program is increasing, but Sloan said the Health Department would like to help more women. In 2000, when the state-funded program began, 10 women participated. Last year, 71 women were tested through the program.
"But what if they find something?" Sloan says women ask. Through the program, if a woman is diagnosed with cancer, she is eligible for Medicaid to cover the expenses of treatment.
A single woman between 50 and 64 who earns $18,620 a year or less is eligible. A woman in a four-person family with a yearly household income of $37,700 or less is also eligible. The Hill County Health Department has more information about eligibility for women of different household sizes.