A life and death matter

January 25, 1991

It is an unenviable distinction: Maryland is No. 1, with the highest cancer death rate of any state in the nation -- 194.1 per 100,000 people. Not only does Maryland rank among the top six states for deaths from all the major cancers -- lung, colon, breast and prostate -- but it is also in the top four for cancer of the esophagus, pharynx, larynx, liver, bladder.

Equally as baffling as the high statewide incidence of the disease is the odd distribution of cases. The death rate for non-whites is higher than that of whites, for example. And while urban living has always been considered less healthy because of greater exposure to industrial pollution, the newest statistics show disturbingly high death rates for some cancers, notably cervical and lung cancer, in poorer, rural counties.

Eight years ago, Maryland developed a statewide cancer registry to determine patterns of access to diet, health care and other factors that might explain the racial and geographic differences. But compliance is voluntary, so the registry remains incomplete. Now Governor Schaefer is pushing a bill to require health care institutions to report all new cancer cases and the stages at which they are diagnosed to the central registry.

Some hospitals no doubt will argue that compliance is costly and burdensome, but the General Assembly should pass this bill quickly nonetheless. The data generated by an invigorated registry would help immeasurably in pinpointing environmental, occupational and lifestyle causes of the disease and in developing education, health, safety and inspection programs to reduce Maryland's ghastly cancer death rate.

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