State Announces Action to Address Cancer Cluster in Buffalo

"I think education is the key."

Brendan Keany
October 23, 2019 - 12:51 am

Brendan Keany

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BUFFALO (WBEN) - At a public meeting at the Buffalo Museum of Science on Tuesday evening, state health officials discussed some new initiatives that will be implemented to mitigate the higher cancer rates in East Buffalo/Western Cheektowaga.

The State Department of Health, after a year-long study, found that unusually elevated use of tobacco use in the area is likely the cause of higher rates of oral, esophageal, lung, kidney, colorectal and prostate cancer.

"There are many causes of cancer, some that we can control and some that we cannot - our genetics, our health behaviors and then also environmental exposures for cancer," said New York's Deputy Commissioner of Public Health Brad Hutton. "We certainly always have concerns for potential environmental causes of cancer, but when we looked at the available sources here for this local community including indoor and outdoor air quality, radon, drinking water, traffic and other sources of data including existing known hazardous waste sites, we, really after conducting that exhaustive review, didn't find that any of them would potentially explain the higher rates of those six cancers."

According to Hutton, nearly 30% of adults in the studied area smoke regularly, which is in stark contrast to the 14% of residents from the rest of the state.

Listen to Hutton's full comments below:

As there was a pretty high level of concern regarding a possible environmental factor leading to the increased cancer rates in the area, County Legislator Howard Johnson noted that it's somewhat easing to know that it doesn't appear to be case.

"The shame would have been if would have been environmental because we would have had to figure it out," said Johnson. "The fact that it's more of lifestyle use is a small relief, not much of a relief, but a small relief."

In an effort to curb the "cancer cluster" designation in the area, Governor Cuomo announced two initiatives to help drive down the rates of tobacco use. The first is a $675,000 grant to the Population Health Collaborative to support local cancer prevention. Cuomo has also directed the Department of Health to create a stakeholder-led workgroup that will be responsible for recommending strategies to reduce tobacco use.

When asked about what immediate steps could be taken, Johnson pointed to knowledge of the situation as a good way to start.

"I think education is the key," he began. "To get the message out there and say, 'Hey, smoking is not the thing to do...using those Juul pods is not the thing to do.'"

Listen to Johnson's full comments below:

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