Mortality Disparities Concern Health Officials; Regional Cancer Report Shows Geographic, Economic Barriers to Care; HEALTH REPORT

Article excerpt

While fewer people are dying from cancer in St. Louis, the chances of recovery can too often be predicted by a persons neighborhood.

The cancer mortality disparities are included in a new report from the St. Louis Regional Health Commission that highlights 14 health measures at the ZIP code level for the city and county from 2000 to 2010. The Post-Dispatch health section each week in December will feature different aspects of the report, including upcoming stories on womens and childrens issues and behavioral health.

Cancer rates, both for incidents and deaths, are declining in St. Louis as well as the country. But there are stark racial differences that concern public health experts, such as black men dying of prostate cancer at more than two times the rate of white men. Black men are more likely to die from prostate cancer than women are from breast cancer.

Beyond the death rates are hints at geographic and economic barriers to health care. Two-thirds of women from Ladue, Chesterfield and Webster Groves who died of breast cancer in recent years had lived past the age of 75. In lower income ZIP codes, fewer than half of women who died of breast cancer lived that long. The data also does not reflect the type of cancer, which can be more aggressive in younger and African-American women. It doesnt account for the percentage of women who died after a second or third recurrence of the disease.

The reports authors avoid presenting theories on the causes of the disparities or the possible solutions, but say the data raises plenty of questions for further study.

Why are the higher hospitalization rates for lung disease concentrated in a swath of land spreading northwest from downtown St. Louis? The area surrounds I-70, which runs through dense neighborhoods and points to an influence of air pollution or other environmental factors. …