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Cancer deaths higher in area
Local rates surpass state

Monday, January 6, 2014

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Both Henry County and Martinsville had “significantly higher” rates of cancer deaths than the Virginia average in 2012.

Martinsville’s rate also was “significantly higher” than Virginia’s in 2011.

That’s according to updated statistics on the Virginia Department of Health website.

Henry County and/or Martinsville’s statistically older population, higher rates of smoking and overweight/obesity, and financial barriers to health care — all compared with the state averages — were possible factors for the numbers cited by some local officials.

In 2012, Henry County had 159 “malignant neoplasms (cancer) deaths” and a rate of 200.7 cancer deaths per 100,000 population, compared with Virginia’s rate of 164.1 per 100,000.

In 2012, Martinsville had 55 “malignant neoplasms (cancer) deaths” and a rate of 277.5 cancer deaths per 100,000, compared with Virginia’s rate of 164.1 per 100,000.

In 2011, Martinsville had 49 “malignant neoplasms (cancer) deaths” and a rate of 249.0 cancer deaths per 100,000, compared with Virginia’s rate of 169.5 per 100,000.

Henry County’s cancer death rate also exceeded Virginia’s rate each year from 2008-11. Martinsville’s cancer death rate exceeded Virginia’s rate in 2008 and 2010, but was less than Virginia’s rate in 2009.

Barbara Jackman, executive director of the Martinsville Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness, cited the area’s screening rates in explaining the local rates.

“We have a pretty strong breast cancer screening program” in this area, she said, but the percentage of people getting cancer screenings locally is less than for Virginia, so when cancer is found, the person is sicker. That’s probably true for other types of cancer as well, she said.

A lot of people in the area don’t have health insurance, and a lot of people are under- or unemployed, she said. “Routine visits to medical providers or screenings often are pushed to the back of the line,” and people usually are sicker when they do go to the doctor or get screenings, she said.

Michael Compton, director of the Ravenel Oncology Center at Memorial Hospital of Martinsville and Henry County, stated in an email: “According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI),, some of the factors which are known to increase the incidence of cancer are: age (the older you are the higher your probability of being diagnosed with cancer); tobacco and alcohol abuse; environmental and occupational exposures to things such as dyes, asbestos and chemicals commonly seen in manufacturing factories; obesity; heredity.”

Compton added: “The American Cancer Society’s publication on cancer disparities also indicates that many of the causes for undiagnosed and late-stage diagnosed cancers — including some of the following which are felt to be prevalent in our community — lead to higher mortality rates.”

He stated that those causes include:

• “Lack of education/knowledge (may be less knowledgeable of signs and symptoms or may be less financially stable).

• “Financial and social barriers to health care and health insurance.

• “Not following suggested screening guidelines (such as mammograms, Pap tests, colonoscopies, etc.).

• “Denial.”

“Many of these factors are present in our local environment,” Compton said.

Dr. Margaret “Molly” O’Dell, acting health director for the West Piedmont Health District, speculated that Martinsville and Henry County’s statistically higher older population than the state and the higher smoking rate in the area were factors in the higher cancer death rates.

According to the Virginia Atlas of Community Health (VACH), using 2012 estimates, in both Henry County and Martinsville 20 percent of the people were aged 65 and older, compared with 13 percent in Virginia.

It also showed that 29 percent of Henry County’s residents smoked, compared with 19 percent for Virginia and 12 percent for Martinsville.

O’Dell said she agreed with Jackman’s comments, including about financial barriers to health care due to under- or unemployment leading to later diagnoses and poorer outcomes.

According to VACH, based on 2012 estimates, 14 percent of people aged 18 and older in Henry County and 12 percent in Martinsville could not see the doctor due to the cost, compared with 10 percent in Virginia.

It also showed 26 percent of Henry County people aged 19-64 were uninsured; 22 percent in Martinsville; and 18 percent in Virginia. It showed 10 percent of Henry County children aged 0-18 were uninsured; 6 percent, in Martinsville; and 7 percent, in Virginia.

VACH also showed that 67 percent of people aged 18 and older in both Henry County and Martinsville were overweight or obese, compared with 62 percent in Virginia, based on 2012 estimates.

Chris Green, senior director, media relations, American Cancer Society Inc., said many reasons or factors could affect a locality’s cancer death rate. For example, he said, “Sometimes, it’s a one-year blip,” or there could be an increase in a particular type of cancer.

According to Green and a brochure he provided, generally, there are cancer disparities in terms of socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, residence, sex and sexual orientation.

“ ... Causes of health disparities within each of these groups are complex. ... However, disparities predominantly arise from inequities in work, wealth, income, education, housing and overall standard of living, as well as social barriers to high-quality cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment services,” the brochure states.

The Virginia Department of Health website also provided cancer mortality statistics for the five-year period from 2007-11. Henry County had a rate of 188.7 cancer deaths per 100,000 population; Martinsville, 189.6 per 100,000; and Virginia, 174.8 per 100,000. During that period, Henry County had 717 cancer deaths; Martinsville, 213; and Virginia, 70,100.


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