Columbia County Observer
By Stew Lilker
According to the recently released WellFlorida Council North Central Florida Cancer Report 2016, North Central Florida has the highest cancer mortality rates in the state. Other than Alachua County, the home of the University of Florida, all the counties in the report are what were previously known as Rural Areas of Critical Economic Concern (RACEC) counties, challenged communities with persistent poverty and other chronic problems. The high cancer mortality rates are not a surprise.
Bradford, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Lafayette, Levy, Union, Putnam, and Suwannee counties were formerly known as RACECs. This means that they are under-educated; under-employed; have low household income; depressed economic activity; a lack of business competitiveness; and are areas of persistent poverty with some school districts with free and reduced lunch rates at 100%. In 2014, led by the Florida League of Cities, the wizards in Tallahassee renamed RACEC communities “Rural Areas of Opportunity.”
North Central Florida Cancer Control Collaborative
According to the North Central Florida Cancer Control Collaborative (NCFCCC) website, it improves access to cancer care and reduces the burden of cancer on residents of North Central Florida. The NCFCCC target area includes 11 predominantly rural counties: Alachua, Bradford, Dixie, Gilchrist, Lafayette, Levy, Union, Putnam, Columbia, Hamilton, and Suwannee. In some of the most rural counties, 21 percent of residents live below the poverty level and rates of uninsured residents are as high as 28 percent. The program is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to support and coordinate comprehensive cancer control activities throughout the state.
Rural populations experience disproportionately higher mortality rates from certain cancers with the highest cancer mortality rates concentrated in North Central Florida.
Cancer Incident Rates
Research shows that the average numbers of cancer incidence rates per 100,000 for all types of cancers in the NCFCCC region are lower than the incidence rates for the state of Florida in every county except Union, Putnam, Hamilton, and Alachua County. According to the data, in 2014 Union County had a disproportionately higher all cancer incidence rate than the rest of Florida.
Age-Adjusted Top Cancer Death Rates
In the region, the age adjusted death rate for all cancers is 27% higher than in Florida. Trachea, bronchus lung cancer is ranked first in the top ten cancer type deaths in the region. Compared to the rest of Florida, the trachea, bronchus lung cancer age-adjusted death rate is 42% higher in the region.
Bladder cancer is ranked last in the top ten cancer type deaths in the NCFCCC region. However, the age adjusted death rate is 15% higher than in the state.
Cancer Rates in Black & White
The age-adjusted death rate for all cancers among Black NCFCCC residents is 44% higher than Florida’s. For Black residents in the region, the age-adjusted death rate of cancer is higher in each top ten cancer type except for leukemia. Trachea, bronchus lung cancer death rates are almost twice as high in Black residents as the rest of Florida.
For White residents, the regionally age-adjusted death rates are 25% higher in every top ten cancer type. Additionally, in White residents, the age-adjusted death rate for Lip, oral pharynx cancer is 65% higher than the rest of the state.
The data speaks for itself. The connection between cancer deaths and socio-economic conditions and race are clear.