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American Cancer Society Reports Connecticut is Among States with Highest Cancer Rates in Nation

Press Release

[February 11, 2003] Environment and Human Health, Inc. (EHHI), a non-profit organization composed of doctors, public health professionals and policy experts, reports that Connecticut has the highest rates of breast cancer in the country. As well, Connecticut ranks third in the nation for urinary bladder cancer and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

When all cancer sites are averaged together, Connecticut ranks second in the nation for the highest rates of cancers among females. Males in Connecticut are not far behind, placing fourth in the nation, after lung cancer is removed from the averages.

These cancer rates are reported in the newly released issue of the American Cancer Society's "Cancer Facts and Figures - 2003." The rates are standardized and based on cancer incidence per 100,000, thus allowing for equal comparisons among the fifty states.

"These are alarming rates of cancer for all of us living in Connecticut and they are ones that people need to know about," says Nancy Alderman, president of Environment and Human Health Inc. "We cannot begin to solve this problem until we understand what the problem is, and learning that we have extraordinarily high rates of cancer in Connecticut is the first step in beginning to solve this problem."

The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 212,600 new breast cancer cases this year in the United States. If we look back only three years ago to the year 2000, the breast cancer rates for this nation were 182,000-a jump of 30,000 new cases of breast cancer in just three years.

In Connecticut this rise is mirrored by our own increase in breast cancer rates. Connecticut has the oldest tumor registry in the country and has been tracking tumors since 1935 in four-year averages tabulated at one case per 100,000. Over an 18-year period from 1980 to 1998 there was a steady increase in breast cancer rates that amounted to a 25 percent rise.

"This rise in breast cancer continues to reflect the more dramatic rise in breast cancer that has taken place over the past 30 years," says Dr. Barry Boyd, an oncologist at the Greenwich Hospital and an affiliate member of the Yale Cancer Center, as well as a board member of Environment and Human Health, Inc.

The nationwide rise in non-Hodgkin's lymphoma has also been precipitous. Since the early 1970s non-Hodgkin's lymphoma cases have risen by 80 percent. This represents one of the largest increases among the major cancer sites in the United States. The U.S. now has about 56,000 new cases of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma a year-a number that closely corresponds to the number of all the Americans killed in the Vietnam War. Yet these new cases of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma happen each and every year.

A part, but only a part, of the increase in incidence of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in recent years has been related to AIDS. However, AIDS cannot explain the increase in non-Hodgkin's lymphoma observed over a period that began years before the AIDS epidemic and continues to be observed in the absence of HIV infection.

"Understanding that Connecticut ranks third in the nation for cases of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is both important and serious," says Dr. Boyd. "This, coupled with the fact that Connecticut also ranks third in the nation for rates of bladder cancer, raises serious concerns about the excessive risk among Connecticut residents. Bladder cancer, like lymphoma, is a cancer closely linked to environmental carcinogen exposures," adds Dr. Boyd.

What can we do about the high levels of these indicator cancer rates in this state?

We can begin by trying to reduce agents that are known or suspected to cause problems. We must reduce our total chemical loading, which means reducing unnecessary chemical exposures. We are exposed to chemicals through what we eat, what we drink, and what we breathe. All three routes of exposure need to be safeguarded.

We have a background of air pollution in this state that is also serious. We have an enormous amount of car and truck traffic through this state, bringing car and diesel exhaust - both of which contain cancer-causing compounds.

We have a large number of people in Connecticut who apply pesticides, not just for necessary uses, but simply for aesthetic reasons on lawns. People are risking their health just to remove dandelions. The relationship between pesticides (particularly 2,4-D) and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma has been demonstrated by a number of studies. Other agents considered to be contributory factors to disease include nitrates, solvents, industrial chemicals and tobacco smoke.

"Chemicals are tested individually for their potential to induce cancer and yet people are exposed to mixtures of carcinogens every day of their lives in air, water, food and indoor environments," explains John Wargo, professor of Risk Analysis and Environmental Policy at Yale University and member of the board of Environment and Human Health.

With cancer rates so high in Connecticut, we must also begin to pay attention to diet and nutrition. Obesity rates are rising in this state as they are across the entire country, and like other environmental carcinogens, obesity is a risk factor for cancer. Connecticut must begin to reduce all its environmental risk factors for cancer if it wants to work toward lowering its rates of disease.

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