Cancer Data Inquiries
The OHA Public Health Division takes Oregonians' concerns about environmental contaminants and cancer seriously.
The OHA Public Health Division responds to concerns about diseases and the environment by analyzing human health and exposure data. Health data are analyzed to identify sources of illness and target interventions to prevent additional cases from occurring. Intervention efforts include collaborating with regulatory agencies to stop exposures (e.g. recalling a contaminated product from the market); ensuring specific preventive measures when indicated (e.g. vaccination); and providing health-related information to health care providers and the public.
The purpose of the Oregon State Cancer Registry (OSCaR) includes:
- Providing opportunities for Oregonians diagnosed with cancer to participate in scientific research projects aimed at improving the quality of cancer treatment, and
- Monitoring overall rates and trends in cancer in the population in order to target and evaluate public health actions that can help all Oregonians.
When monitoring cancer in the population, we focus on known causes of common cancers and established risk factors (e.g. smoking and lung cancer; colon cancer screening and early detection of colon cancer).
Occasionally, the Public Health Division is asked to investigate concerns that an area may have higher than expected numbers of people with a particular cancer. Analyzing cancer incidence in itself is not helpful in determining why cancer may be higher in a particular area or why specific cancer cases occur. Once there is a determination that there is a higher than expected rate of cancer, it is important to consider all of the potential causes. If the cancer is common (for example, lung, prostate, and female breast cancers are among the most frequently occurring cancers), there may be several reasons for a higher rate, and a statistical analysis of the cancer incidence in the area of concern would likely be of little value. However, if the cancer is rare, an environmental health assessment may be able to uncover a contaminant that is contributing to the cancer cases.
For the reasons stated above, an investigation of cancer concerns must meet the following conditions before a formal investigation is started:
- The cancer is not common.
- An environmental contaminant has not been identified as a cause of cancer.
- A specific geographic area has been identified that includes the population affected by the higher cancer rates.
- A time period for the cancer diagnoses of concern can be established for the investigation.
We care deeply about the health of people in Oregon. Unfortunately, cancer is common, and if the above listed conditions are not met, it is unlikely that a cancer investigation will help protect people's health. This is particularly true when contaminants of concern have already been identified.
Oregonians concerned about elevated air toxins can visit Cleaner Air Oregon.
For other environmental concerns such as hazardous waste sites, please read more about Environmental Health Assessments.