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Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention

A Division of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services

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Maine Cancer Registry - Local Cancer Rate Concerns

Calls from Maine Citizens

The MCR receives calls from people concerned about the amount of cancer in their neighborhood or place of work. We take these calls very seriously.

For each call we try to answer the following question:

Are the local cancer cases a part of the normally high rates we have in this country (and state) or are they even higher than usual?

How we try to answer this question:

  • We obtain specific information from the caller about the kinds of cancer, the ages and locations of people involved and any environmental concerns.
  • A Cancer Inquiry Team of epidemiologists, physicians and toxicologists in the Maine Center for Disease Control meets to attempt to answer the question above.
  • A suspected high rate of cancer is more likely to be a concern if there is a large number of cases of one type of cancer, rather than several different types; a rare type of cancer, rather than a common type; or a type of cancer in an age group not usually affected by that cancer.

Most local rates appear high because cancer is common

  • Unfortunately, one out of three people in the United States and in Maine will develop cancer during his or her lifetime.
  • Because cancer is so common, it is not unusual to know several people who have been diagnosed with the disease. Each year over 8,000 Maine residents are diagnosed with invasive cancer and over 3,100 die of the disease.
  • Cancer is not a single disease. There are over 100 types of cancer each with different causes. Four types of cancer account for over 50% of all cases diagnosed in Maine: lung, female breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer.

Trying to find a cause for cancer is very difficult

In rare situations a local rate does appear to be higher than we would expect. However, we usually can not find a specific cause, for several reasons:

  • Cancer takes a long time to develop. It is hard to go back and reconstruct what people may have been doing that long ago.
  • Many things can cause cancer. Any one case of cancer probably has several causes, not just one.
  • Cancer clusters usually have only a few cases. Studies which determine causes of diseases usually need hundreds of cases.