Cancer

Background

Cancer is a group of diseases where abnormal cells in the body grow beyond control. Although cancer is the leading cause of death in New Hampshire (NH), there are known risk factors that can be avoided to reduce cancer risk such as not using tobacco, maintaining a healthy weight, minimizing alcohol intake, not using tanning beds, going into the sun sensibly, and increasing physical activity. Approximately 41 out of 100 men and 38 out of 100 women will develop cancer during their lifetime. Cancer is better controlled when diagnosed early. Health disparities are apparent in the prevention, detection, and treatment of cancer and the ultimate survivorship of cancer patients. To reduce the disparities in cancer mortality, access to cancer screenings and early detection needs to be enhanced in coordination with high-quality treatment.

Key Terms

Screening Test

Used to look for a disease when a person doesn’t have symptoms. The goal of screening is to find cancers before they spread.

Diagnostic Test

Used when a person has symptoms to find out the cause of the symptoms.

Cancer Data Overview

Check out the points below for the main takeaways from this page. 

• Cancer is the leading cause of death in NH, with some of the highest rates in the U.S. The most commonly diagnosed cancer in NH is female breast cancer (incident rate = 144.6 per 100k). The most deadly cancer in NH is lung and bronchus cancer (death rate = 42.5 per 100k).

• In 2020, there were an estimated 700 NH deaths due to lung and bronchus cancer, and an estimated 1,350 newly diagnosed NH cases of breast cancer. 

• Cancers with the highest incidence rates in NH include breast, colorectal, lung, and prostate cancer, which is on track with the most common types of cancer in the U.S.

• In regards to cancer risk factors in 2018, 16% of NH residents over the age of 18 currently smoke cigarettes, 30% are considered obese, 35% are considered overweight, and 65% are considered to have excess body weight. 

• In regards to cancer screening in 2018, 75% of NH residents over the age of 50 received a stool test/endoscopy, 71% of NH women 45 years of age or older have up to date mammography, and 90% of NH women ages 21 to 65 received a Pap/HPV test.

Estimated Cancer Burden in NH

The burden of cancer is substantial in every country around the world. 

Cancer is the leading cause of death in NH, with some of the highest rates throughout the U.S. (NH DHHS). Every day in NH there are approximately 20 new cancer diagnoses and 7 new cancer deaths. Cancer is better controlled when diagnosed early and is grouped into five categories when it is staged which includes: In situ, localized, regional, and distant. In situ describes cancer cells that are only present in layer of cells where they developed, localized is when the cancer is limited to the organ where it started, regional cancer spreads beyond the primary site to nearby tissue and distant is when the cancer has spread from the primary site to distant tissues and organs.

Most Common Types of Cancer

Cancers with the highest incidence rates in NH include breast, colorectal, lung, and prostate cancer, which is on track with the most common types of cancer in the U.S. Lung cancer accounts for the largest number of cancer deaths among men (26%) and women (25%) (AHR). Learn more about the different types of cancer and their incidence rates below. 

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer occurs when cells located in the breast grow out of control. There are different kinds of breast cancer, dependent on which cells turn into cancer. Breast cancer can spread beyond the breast through blood vessels and lymph vessels to other parts of the body, where it metastasizes. The risk of developing breast cancer is due to a combination of factors, including being a woman and older age, with most breast cancers found in women over the age of 50. While some people experience warning signs such as a new lump in the breast or underarm, swelling of the breast, or irritation of the breast skin, some do not experience any symptoms. It is recommended for women 50 to 74 years old to get a mammogram every two years. Breast cancer incidence in Greater Nashua has remained steady since 2000 and breast cancer mortality has steadily decreased since 2000. 

Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer, occurs in the colon or rectum. Colorectal cancer occurs when polyps formed in the colon turn into cancer. Since colorectal cancer does not always present symptoms, screening tests are an important measure that can be taken to prevent the progression of polyps to cancer and identify cancer during early stages of diagnosis. Your risk of getting colorectal cancer increases as you get older, with about 90% of diagnosis in people over the age of 50 years old. Colorectal cancer deaths in Greater Nashua have slowly declined over the past 15 years. Increasing colorectal cancer screening in low socioeconomic status communities, especially with low educational attainment, can decreased colorectal cancer deaths. 

Lung and Bronchus Cancer

Lung cancer occurs when cancer cells are formed in the lungs. Lung cancer can spread to lymph nodes or other organs in the body, including the brain. Cancer from other organs can also spread to the lungs. People can experience different symptoms for lung cancer, but most people do not have any symptoms until the cancer is advanced. Several risk factors that can increase your risk of lung cancer include smoking, secondhand smoke, and exposure to radon.

Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer occurs when cancer cells form in the prostate, part of the male reproductive system. In the U.S., prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men. Although all men are at risk for developing prostate cancer, risk increases with age. Approximately 13 out of every 100 American men will develop prostate cancer during their lifetime, with about 2 to 3 of those men dying from prostate cancer. No all men with prostate cancer experience symptoms, but those who do often have difficulty with their urination. There is no standard test to screen for prostate cancer, but some men check their prostate specific antigen levels through a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test.

Cancer Risk Factors and Screening

Risk Factors

Cancer has many risk factors and most cancers take a long time to develop in the body. Studies have shown that it can take up to 40 years for some cancers to develop after exposure to certain substances. Tobacco use, heavy drinking, a poor diet, physical inactivity, obesity, and overexposure to sunlight increase risk for cancer. 

“Women of all ages should listen to their bodies. If something is not quite right, don’t dismiss it. Tell your doctor.”

- Janet K., Ovarian Cancer Survivor (Source: CDC)

Reduce Your Risk

Reducing cancer risk is not always a decision you get to make. A person's age, race, and genetics are predetermined and some environmental exposure to cancer causing agents are unavoidable. However, other risk factors, such as smoking and diet, can be altered. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will develop cancer, and many people who get the disease may not have had any known risk factors. The best way to reduce cancer risk is to make healthy lifestyle choices and take precautions to reduce potentially harmful exposures. 

Health Equity & Cancer

A person's health can be seriously impacted by their race, ethnicity, gender, income level, education, and other socioeconomic factors. In regards to cancer...

• African American men are more likely to get prostate cancer and twice as likely to die from prostate cancer than other men (CDC).

• Nationally, African American women have the highest death rate compared to other women and are more likely to die of breast cancer than white women (CDC). 

• Hispanic and African American women have the highest rates of cervical cancer and cervical cancer deaths (CDC). 

• Socio-economically stressed individuals are particularly at risk for radon-related lung cancer. Residents of New Hampshire in lower socioeconomic groups are less likely to test their homes for radon (NH DHHS).


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