Study finds high death rates from cancer, heart disease

County's record worse than state's and nation's

preventive screenings up

April 11, 2002|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

More county residents are getting preventive health screenings for treatable cancers, but Anne Arundel's mortality rates for cancer and heart disease are higher than state and national rates, according to the county Health Department's fifth annual Report Card of Community Health Indicators.

The report, released yesterday, describes how the department has used money from the 1999 national tobacco settlement to offer more health education and prevention services, said Ronna Gotthainer, a planner with the county Health Department.

"I think the good news is that residents of Anne Arundel County are getting more screenings like colonoscopies, mammograms and Pap tests," Gotthainer said.

According to the report, heart disease, cancer, stroke and chronic lung disease accounted for 75 percent of the deaths recorded in the county in 2000.

Of the $2.1 million Anne Arundel received this year from the Cigarette Restitution Fund, $1.3 million went toward cancer education, prevention and treatment, much of it aimed at colorectal cancer. In the past year, the department's Life Screen program, which offers free colonoscopies to low-income people ages 50 to 64, screened 103 people.

"We've recruited a lot of people [for the screenings] from other programs at the health department, and we've begun to get referrals from physicians offices," Gotthainer said.

Although the department is strengthening its efforts to detect and treat cancer, Anne Arundel has the seventh-highest cancer incidence rate among Maryland's 24 jurisdictions and the 10th-highest mortality rate, according to the report card.

"Cancer is caused by a lot of complex things and no particular thing itself," Gotthainer said. "Family history's involved, lifestyle, behavior, as well as environmental factors.

"Clearly you can look at certain cancers and see that in areas with a lot of exposure to sun, places like Worcester County and Anne Arundel County, those rates are going to be higher. Sometimes you can see that clear relationship, but in most of these cancer cases you can't."

The relationship between tobacco use and lung cancer, which accounted for 31 percent of cancer deaths in the county from 1994 to 1998, is clear.

With $940,000 from the tobacco settlement money targeted for preventing tobacco use and cessation efforts, county health officials have developed education materials and community programs to inform people about the risks of smoking. "Among youths and adults in Anne Arundel, tobacco use rates are higher than the statewide rates.

"We're doing programs in schools, in colleges and even in preschools," Gotthainer said.

She said one of the most valuable pieces of information in the report card is that 1,800 deaths in the county in 2000 were preventable. Tobacco use accounted for 19 percent. Other causes include diet, inactivity and alcohol use.

The health department will be focusing a lot this coming year on diet and inactivity issues," Gotthainer said.

"More than half of county residents are overweight or obese, and fewer than half are getting regular physical activity."

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