Where you live matters: New Brunswick cancer study

When it comes to cancer, a New Brunswick study on cancer patterns in 14 urban and rural communities has found that where you live matters and that it has little to do with a community’s social or economic status. The study published in 2012 in New Solutions, a journal of occupational and environmental health policy, identified communities with significantly high and others with significantly low overall rates of cancers and joins only a handful of studies that have examined and compared cancer and other disease incidences at the community level.

Inka Milewski, science advisor for the Conservation Council of New Brunswick and the study’s author, found that cancer incidence is not evenly distributed among New Brunswick communities with some communities having a higher cancer incidence than others.

“The New Brunswick Department of Health does not track cancer incidence by community, but my research clearly shows that doing so would identify at-risk communities and effectively allocate scarce cancer prevention dollars to help people avoid cancer,” said Milewski.

Milewski’s study found no link at the community level between the socio-economic factors often blamed for elevated cancer rates such as unemployment, lack of education and poverty. The study could not isolate which other risk factors were responsible for higher cancer rates in some communities versus other communities because data on smoking, exposure to environmental pollutants and contaminants, and rates of diagnostic screening were not available at the community level.

“What does stand out in my research is that communities with higher levels of industrial activity had higher rates of cancers, along with the fact that cancer rates in men in those communities were significantly higher than in communities with no industrial activity. This to me suggest cancer incidence has a strong link to occupational exposure,” concluded Milewski.

“If we are to improve the health of New Brunswickers, cancer and other health information must be collected and reported at the community level. This would ensure residents become more aware of disease trends in their community, disease prevention policies and programs targeting the most vulnerable populations, and would ensure public engagement on public health and environmental policy issues could increase”, said Milewski.

Milewski, I. 2012. Identifying at-risk communities for action on cancer prevention: a case study in New Brunswick (Canada) communities. New Solutions. 22(1):79-107

For a copy of the publication, please contact the Conservation Council office at info@conservationcouncil.ca or contact Inka Milewski at milewski@nbnet.nb.ca

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