Lung cancer continues on the rise in Harford County

Contrary to the rest of Maryland, lung cancer is on the rise in Harford County, the county health department said Tuesday.

According to a 2013 Cancer Data report from the Cigarette Research Fund Program of the Maryland Department of Health, lung cancer was the leading cause in cancer-related death in Harford County residents in 2010.

In Harford County, both the number of new lung cancer cases and disease's incidence rates increased between 2009 and 2010, the Harford County Heath Department noted in a news release.

Between 2009 and 2010, there was a less than one percent increase in lung and bronchus cancer cases in Maryland, according to the state cancer data report, whose figures are based upon the Maryland Cancer Registry. The incidence rate — the number of diagnosed cases per 100,000 population — decreased by one percent statewide. The population figures used in the registry are for the 2000 census.

During the same period, however, the number of new cases of lung and bronchus cancer increased from 156 in 2009 to 171 in 2010 in Harford County, the county health department said, or about 9.6 percent.

The incidence rate in Harford increased from 61.5 per 100,000 population to almost 65 per 100,000, an increase of 5.7 percent. Harford had a population of 218,590 in 2000, the census upon which the computations are based. The county's 2010 population was 244,130, according to the census.

In addition, the latest state report says 138 Harford County residents died from lung cancer in 2010 out of the 444 deaths from all cancers reported that year. Statewide, there were 2,738 deaths from lung cancer in 2010.

Cigarette smoking, cigar smoking and tobacco use among youth in Harford County exceeds state averages, according to a 2010 Maryland Youth Tobacco Survey. National Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data also shows prevalence of cigarette smoking and smokeless tobacco use among adults and cigarette smoking among pregnant women is higher in Harford County than state averages.

Bill Wiseman, spokesperson for the county health department, said studies have shown first-hand smoke is the leading contributor to lung and bronchus cancer. But, second- and third-hand smoke are also contributing factors to the high number of Harford County residents suffering from lung cancer.

"Third-hand smoke is smoke deposited on upholstery, carpeting, interiors and car seats" Wiseman said. "Many of the same chemicals that are deposited in lungs from first-hand tobacco smoking can also be deposited in upholstery."

Based on its geography, some areas of Harford County also contains high levels of radon. Radon is an orderless, tasteless radioactive gas, which occurs naturally as an indirect decay product of various elements such as uranium.

According to the U.S. Environmental Agency and the Centers for Disease Control websites, radon is considered a cause of lung cancer cases and deaths.

"Areas in our county have a higher concentration of radon," said Wiseman, who noted Harford County residents can attempt to protect themselves from radon, by securing home-testing units to see if their home is in an area of high concentration. They then can get their homes retrofitted against radon with the installation of special pipes.

Wiseman said the trouble with retrofitting against radon is that it is expensive.

"It's a lot cheaper to protect against radon in the pre-construction or construction phase," he said. "It's harder to retrofit a home against it."

Wiseman said other factors, which lead to lung cancer are occupational exposures and genetic predispositions based on family genetics.

He emphasized, however, that the most important action that can be taken to deal with the increase in lung cancer in Harford County is to get people to stop smoking or never start.

"It's all about prevention," Wiseman said. "We're working to create access to health services and opportunities for promoting healthier behaviors among Harford County residents."

Air quality has been an issue in Harford County for several decades. Environmental experts have said Harford is one of the country's most polluted counties in terms of ozone levels, largely because of its topography and the presence of I-95 running the length of the county.

But, Jay Apperson, spokesperson for the Maryland Department of Environment, said while Harford County suffers from a poor ground ozone, there is no correlation between the air quality and increases in lung cancer in the county.

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