New project will develop cancer maps for Pennsylvania

December 15, 2003

A three-year, $736,000 grant from the Association of American Medical Colleges and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will allow Penn State Cancer Institute to develop cancer maps to identify Pennsylvania communities with particularly high rates of colorectal and prostate cancer.

"A picture, or a map in this case, is worth a thousand words," said Eugene Lengerich, V.M.D., M.S., principal investigator for the grant and associate professor of health evaluation sciences, Penn State College of Medicine. "Our goal is to use the latest mapping technology to bolster the ongoing efforts of Pennsylvania communities to prevent cancer. Our communities deserve the latest technology."

Armed with information about cancer rates in specific geographic areas, individuals, organizations, health care providers and government agencies can better plan and evaluate cancer interventions in Pennsylvania communities.

The model developed under this grant will be based on prostate and colorectal cancers because available screenings and interventions provide significant opportunity to reduce the burden of these cancers. Once developed, this model can be expanded not only to other cancer types, but also to other states.

Based on data from the Pennsylvania Central Cancer Registry of the state Department of Health, the extent of the burden of colorectal and prostate cancers varies by geographic region. For example, the rate of colorectal cancer death in individual counties in 2000 varied from 28.8 per 100,000 to 15.8 per 100,000, and the rates of prostate cancer varied even more greatly.

Researchers have used statistics and maps to better understand reasons for the great variation in cancer burden.

"The common tools available to do this, which include paper atlases, are somewhat effective, but they are not interactive and cannot be tailored to yield data about individual communities," Lengerich said. "There is a substantial gap between the current and the best methods to visually and statistically analyze and interpret geographic variation in cancer burden. This project will produce accurate, timely, and innovative display and analysis of geographically-based cancer data."

The grant pulls together epidemiologists, geographers and communications experts at Penn State Cancer Institute and Penn State University to use complex epidemiology, statistics and learning theory to ensure the new database will provide maps that are both highly accurate, and understandable.

"This is another example of how the resources of Penn State Cancer Institute and the expertise of our physicians and researchers are improving care and treatment for those at risk for and fighting cancer," said Thomas Loughran, M.D., director, Penn State Cancer Institute at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. "The work being done by Dr Lengerich and his colleagues will lead to a greater understanding of how we can better help our Pennsylvania communities."

Lengerich's co-investigators are Gary Chase, Ph.D., Department of Health Evaluation Sciences and Penn State Cancer Institute at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Alan MacEachren, Ph.D., and David O'Sullivan, Ph.D., Department of Geography and GeoVISTA Center, and Roxanne Parrott, Ph.D., Department of Communications Arts and Sciences, Penn State University.

"We are working closely with an advisory committee which includes representatives from the CDC, National Cancer Institute, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, to be sure that our system will be useful to many state health agencies in their cancer prevention and treatment efforts," Lengerich said.
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Penn State Cancer Institute is a partnership of institutions dedicated to enhancing cancer services throughout central Pennsylvania. Through this partnership, the benefits of cancer research and education at Penn State College of Medicine reach not only patients at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, but also at the Institute's other members; the Lehigh Valley Hospital and Health Network in Allentown and Centre Community Hospital in State College. Services are also provided at Lewistown Hospital, a Cancer Institute associate member. Each year, more than 4,300 new cancer patients seek treatment at one of the Cancer Institute's partner facilities.

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