How cancer hits Hawaii County

Hawaii County residents are slightly more likely to get cancers of the uterus, pancreas, mouth and cervix — as well as melanoma and leukemia — than the rest of the state and nation.

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Hawaii County residents are slightly more likely to get cancers of the uterus, pancreas, mouth and cervix — as well as melanoma and leukemia — than the rest of the state and nation.

Data collected through 2012 by the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows about 32 Hawaii County residents per 100,000 are diagnosed each year with uterine cancer, up from 29.3 statewide and 25.3 nationally. For pancreatic cancer, that number here was 12.4 — up from 12.2 statewide and 10.8 nationally, and for melanoma, nearly 24, up from 19.9 nationally. For leukemia the incident rate was 13.9, up from 12 statewide.

Oral cancer is also more prevalent on the Big Island than elsewhere, with an incident rate of 13.6, up from 11.8 statewide and 11.3 nationally. Oral also has a higher-than-average mortality rate in Hawaii County: It kills an average of 4 people locally each year, up from 2.6 statewide and 2.5 nationally.

Experts speculate genetics, higher prevalence among certain ethnic groups, coupled with higher-than-average smoking rates on the Big Island could be to blame. Data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation shows nearly 20 percent of Hawaii County adults smoked in 2012, which is the highest of any county in the state.

Similar to the rest of the country, breast and prostate cancers still remain among the most commonly diagnosed in Hawaii County. Data show an average of 120.2 new cases of breast cancer are reported on the island each year and 75.4 cases of prostate cancer. But those rates are well below national rates, which is a 123 incident rate on average per 100,000 people for breast cancer and 131.7 for prostate cancer.

The Big Island’s overall cancer rate is actually lower than the rest of the state and country. The overall incident rate is 402.7 in Hawaii County, down from 419.5 statewide and 453.8.

But JoAnn Tsark, research director at Papa Ola Lokahi, cautions folks not to allow that number to overshadow another fact — the state’s Native Hawaiian population has higher-than-average cancer rates. For example, one study showed Native Hawaiian males had a 21 percent higher cancer death rate from 2000 to 2005, compared to the overall population, and Native Hawaiian women had a 37 percent higher death rate compared to all ethnic groups.

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For certain cancers, such as breast cancer, Native Hawaiian women reported the highest incident and mortality rate of any group.

“We want people to be aware that, from a general promotion area, we’re the health state,” Tsark said. “But among our host culture here, there’s a significant and severe cancer burden.”