News Release

PO 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360
Christine Grant
Acting Commissioner
For Release:
April 16, 1999
For Further Information Contact:
Rita Manno or Marilyn Riley
(609) 984-7160
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Department Releases Report on
Childhood Cancer Incidence and Mortality

TRENTON -- Mirroring trends seen around the nation, New Jersey's incidence of childhood cancer has increased slightly from 1979 to 1995, while mortality rates have steadily declined, Acting Health and Senior Services Commissioner Christine Grant said today.

The New Jersey Department of Health today released Childhood Cancer in New Jersey 1979 - 1995, the latest in a series of reports based on the updated New Jersey State Cancer Registry. The report shows that New Jersey's total incidence of childhood cancer rose 5.6 percent over the 17-year period, from 14.2 to 15 cases for every 100,000 children. And although New Jersey's incidence rate remains higher than that for the United States (13.9), the gap has narrowed over the years.

Mortality in both the state and the U.S. declined by one- third, from 4.3 to 2.9 deaths per 100,000 children.

"The declining mortality rates are very good news. However, researchers are still trying to understand why the cancer incidence rate is rising in this country and elsewhere in the world," said Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, State Epidemiologist and Assistant Commissioner of the Division of Epidemiology, Occupational and Environmental Health.

The pediatric cancer report is being distributed to local health officers, cancer treatment specialists and other health care providers, health planners, and others interested in childhood cancer. Information in the report will be helpful to researchers as well as those planning needed children's services in their regions.

"In the last two decades, we have seen great advances in childhood cancer treatment. It's gratifying to see these successes confirmed in the declining number of deaths from childhood cancer here in New Jersey," said Dr. Michael Harris, director of the Tomorrows Children's Institute at Hackensack University Medical Center, and professor of pediatrics at UMDNJ.

For the second consecutive year, the state's Cancer Registry has met the Gold Standard for excellence set by the National Association of Central Cancer Registries, Dr. Bresnitz noted. The award is based on completeness of data, timely reporting and other measures of data quality.

"The high-quality statistics compiled in this report provide invaluable data to researchers as we develop major pediatric cancer initiatives in New Jersey," said Dr. Barton Kamen, director of pediatric oncology, The Cancer Institute of New Jersey.

Childhood cancers are those diagnosed from birth to age 14, and they account for less than one percent of all cancers diagnosed in New Jersey residents. The causes of most childhood cancers are unknown, although many are known to be related to hereditary conditions. It is also not known why rates are rising in industrialized counties. Better access to medical care, improved reporting, environmental influences or random variation are among the possible factors suggested by researchers.

The state's pediatric cancer report presents data on total childhood cancer, as well as statewide and county-level data on major categories of childhood cancer. The statewide incidence of most types of childhood cancer has increased slightly along with the increase in the total childhood cancer rate, the report says. One exception has been leukemias -- cancers of the blood-forming organs -- which have declined since 1982.

In New Jersey as in the nation, the most commonly diagnosed childhood cancers are leukemias, followed by cancers of the central nervous system, and lymphomas, which affect the white blood cells of the immune system. In general, white children in New Jersey are more likely than black children to develop cancer, and boys have higher incidence rates than girls. This trend is also seen in national data, the report notes.

At the county level, the number of cancer cases can be small, resulting in rates that rise and fall sharply with small changes in the number of cases, the report notes. However, an analysis of county rates for the major types of childhood cancer over the 1979 - 1995 time period showed no statistically significant elevations over state rates.

The report provides three-year incidence and mortality rates, not year-by-year rates. The number of childhood cancer cases reported in any one year is relatively small, from 200 to 250. Three-year rates reduce the amount of random fluctuation in rates that is often seen with small numbers of cases.

National mortality rates used in the report are based on data from all 50 states. National incidence data are drawn from the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) program, and represent a sample of 10 percent of the U.S. population. The report provides national and state mortality data, and national incidence data through 1994, and state incidence data through 1995. National data for 1995 is not yet available.

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