This marked the first time I had a health story published and I’m still proud of writing this piece.
Those living in Athens County are more likely, compared to Ohio counties, to get certain types of cancer because of their high smoking rates and tendency to shy away from preventative vaccinations among other variables, according to local healthcare officials.
Cervical cancer rates among Athens residents are double the state’s, according to a study by the Ohio Network of Care, a nationwide resource organization.
Cervical cancer is most commonly spread through the sexually transmitted Human papilloma virus, according to cancer.org. An HPV vaccination would protect against this disease.
But prostate cancer is the most common cancer in Athens County, according to incidence rates in the Ohio Network report.
Unlike cervical cancer, prostate cancer is commonly a result of old age.
Athens had an age-adjusted prostate cancer incidence rate of 171.2 per 100,000 residents from 2005 to 2009. That’s significantly higher than the statewide average at 144.1 cases, and the national average at 152.7, according to the Ohio Network study.
The mortality rate for men with prostate cancer in Athens County from 2006 to 2010 also surpassed state and national levels at 30.9. The state’s was 23.8, according to the study.
In a separate study, the Ohio Department of Health, using the same measurement scale per 100,000 residents, found a lower prostate cancer incidence rate of 132.7 in Athens compared to that state’s average of 135.8 from 2006 to 2011.
Both studies showed similarly high cervical cancer incidence rates.
Although not the highest in the state, the county’s cervical cancer incidence rates remained almost double the state’s average at 14.4, according to the Ohio Department of Health’s study.
The state’s incidence rate was 7.9; the national incidence rate is 8.1.
Athens County marked the highest in the state at 17.6, according to the Ohio Network study, which did not analyze cervical cancer mortality rates.
Pam Born, a registered nurse at River Rose Obstetrics and Gynecology, cited a lack of HPV vaccinations locally as a possible reason for the county’s state-high cervical cancer incidence rates. The amount of people in Athens who have obtained a HPV vaccination was not immediately available.
“We’re not 100 percent vaccinating people, so that’s one of our problems,” Born said. “I just think our vaccination rates in Athens County could be better.”
Born listed lack of condom use and regular exams as further explanation for the elevated cervical cancer incidence rate locally.
“(Women) don’t always come in,” Born said. “Sometimes that’s because they simply don’t want to go through the test, some of it is transportation issues (and) some of it is a lack of awareness in places they can go, especially if they are underinsured or uninsured.”
Melanie Amato, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Health, listed several reasons as to why the county might see high cancer rates including:
– Tobacco use
– Lack of access to healthcare
– Late stage diagnosis
– Poor nutrition
High smoking rates were also cited by Born and Buffy Jansak, OhioHealth’s system program director for cancer services, as a possible reason for the increased cancer rates.
About 32 percent of Athens’ residents smoke, according to a 2008 study by the Ohio Department of Health. That’s almost 8 percentage points higher than the state average.
Smoking rates tend to be higher in rural and impoverished counties, which could lead to an increase in cancer rates, said James Gaskell, commissioner of the Athens City-County Health Department.
The other four counties with the highest poverty rates in Ohio (Jackson, Pike, Scioto, Adams) didn’t touch Athens’ prostate cancer incidence rate. The closest was Scioto County with an incidence rate of 157.1.
Scioto County’s cervical cancer incidence rates also were similar to Athens’ at 13.8, though there was no data regarding cervical cancer for Jackson, Pike and Adams.
Amato said cancers rates in less-populated counties like Athens are based on a small number of cases and tend to fluctuate on an annual basis — explaining the difference between the Ohio Department of Health Study and the Ohio Network of Care study.
“It is often not one factor, but a combination of factors that increase the risk of cancer in an individual or community,” Amato said in an email.