Lake City Reporter
By Carl McKinney
Cancer diagnoses are deadlier in Columbia County than most of North Central Florida, a region already facing the highest cancer mortality rate in the state.
The county sees fewer diagnoses than the rest of the state, but that just makes the local mortality rate even more alarming, said Myesha Ponder, co-author of WellFlorida Council’s 2016 North Central Florida cancer report.
“Our numbers aren’t bad when it comes to people getting cancer,” she said. “It’s people dying from it.”
The study looked at reported cases of all forms of the disease per capita in 11 counties and Florida as a whole between 2005 and 2014, and the number of deaths between 2012 and 2014. The report includes age-weight-ed figures to account for demographic differences between counties and give more useful data, Ponder said.
The state had 384 reported cases of cancer for every 100,000 residents in 2014, with 141 deaths between 2012 and 2014,
after factoring in age.
Columbia County had 375 diagnoses in 2014, with 192 mortalities between 2012 and 2014.
“It shows we need more screenings, more awareness and more education,” the co-author said.
Because large population sizes can push the statistics upward, those figures are particularly concerning when compared to the data for Alachua County.
Despite having 3 percent fewer diagnoses, Columbia County had a 26 percent higher mortality rate than its neighbor to the south.
“And that’s the biggest county in our region,” Ponder said. “Yeah, I’d say that’s a high number for Columbia County.”
Around 192 people per capita died from cancer between 2012 and 2014 in Columbia County, beating the Alachua County average of 152.
The study also covered Bradford, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Lafayette, Levy, Putnam, Suwannee and Union counties.
Four counties —Dixie, Gilchrist, Levy and Union — had worse mortality rates than Columbia County, according to the study.
An outlier, Union County topped the list with nearly 380 age-adjusted deaths on average.
The second highest, Levy County, reported 196.2 cancer mortalities, beating Columbia County by 4.3.
The 11-county region overall had around 180 age-adjusted cancer deaths per capita, 27 percent higher than Florida’s average. For African-Americans in particular, the North Central Florida rate jumps to 202 people per 100,000 residents, 44 percent higher than the state total.
“It is critical that rural settings become a focus of cancer control efforts,” the report states, “since the epidemiological evidence is clear that rural populations experience disproportionately higher mortality rates from certain cancers.”
In the most rural counties, 21 percent of residents live below the poverty level and up to 28 percent of people are uninsured, according to the study.
More programs in those communities to help catch the disease early could make a difference, Ponder said, though the inability for some to afford treatment presents a challenge.
“I think that’s always an issue,” she added.
The median annual household income in Columbia County is $39,194, around $8,000 below the statewide figure of $47,212 per year, according to WellFlorida Council.
WellFlorida Council is part of a network of 11 regional non-profit health agencies.
The organization manages local, state and federally funded health programs in 16 counties, most of which are in North Central Florida.