New report chronicles 15 years of Alaska cancers
A new report on cancer in Alaska shows its overall toll across the state gradually falling, but affecting various populations and regions at markedly different rates.
The report, released Wednesday by the state Department of Health and Social Services, covers various sets of cancer data recorded between 2000 and 2014. It was largely compiled using information from the federally funded Alaska Cancer Registry within DHSS.
“Between 2010 and 2014 (5 years) there were a total of 13,550 new cancer cases among Alaska residents,” the report read. “Between 2005 and 2014 (10 years) there were a total of 8,815 cancer deaths among Alaska residents.”
Among the new cancer cases from 2010 to 2014, prostate and breast cancer were most commonly diagnosed in men and women respectively. Lung and bronchial cancer, followed by colon and rectal cancer were the second and third most commonly diagnosed in both genders.
The overall cancer rate statewide was relatively stable from 1996 to 2007, according to the report, but have been declining since in accordance with a nationwide trend.
“The rate began significantly declining in 2008, and has declined by an average of about 3 percent per year during 2008-2014,” the report read. “Cancer mortality also decreased by about 1 percent per year during 1996-2014.”
Kidney, renal pelvis and liver cancers saw “significant increases” during the same time period, however.
David O’Brien, a data analyst with DHSS, said Wednesday that the report was completed in June but its release was delayed by a state reviewing process. The report doesn’t discuss why the state’s cancer rates are falling, which O’Brien said was beyond its scope.
“We don’t really talk about the causes of cancer because most of them are unknown,” O’Brien said. “What we talk about are risk factors – certain people have certain risk factors, and people with more risk factors are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer.”
Those risk factors, however, don’t guarantee that a given person will be affected by cancer. For instance, O’Brien said, smoking has long been associated with higher rates of lung cancer – but comedian and lifelong smoker George Burns died at the age of 100 from a heart attack.
The report also mentioned some racial groups which had cancer rates above the statewide average. Alaska Natives had higher rates of overall cancer as well as types like colorectal, kidney and lung cancer. Natives, as well as Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, had higher-than-average mortality rates for liver cancer, while black people had higher-than-average rates of prostate cancer.
“The overall cancer incidence rate was historically similar to the U.S. rate, but has been lower than the U.S. rate during recent years,” the report read. “However, although the overall incidence rate among Alaskans was lower than the U.S., rates for many cancers were higher than the U.S. rate for Alaska Native people.”
According to the report, many varieties of cancer were too rare to statistically track within regions of the state. O’Brien said the report condensed some cancers’ reports into timeframes as long as 15 years in order to discuss them, but any with fewer than six reported cases were omitted as statistically irrelevant in accordance with national standards.
“The incidence of overall cancer was lower in the Juneau, Southwest and Y-K Delta regions than statewide; by borough/census area this corresponds to the Aleutians East Borough, Bethel Census Area, Juneau Borough, and Sitka Borough,” the report read.
The state typically releases major reports like Wednesday’s focused on a single disease every five years, O’Brien said.
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