Childhood Cancer
Questions and Answers on
Childhood Cancer in New Jersey 1979 - 1995

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Why did the Department of Health and Senior Services publish a report on childhood cancer?

The State Cancer Registry collects data that is used to determine New Jersey's cancer rates and analyze cancer trends, both statewide and in particular populations. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in children after accidents, making childhood cancers of particular concern to the public, researchers, health care providers and policy makers. This report provides the latest rates and trends in childhood cancer incidence and mortality, including cancer incidence rates by county.

What are the report's findings?

Childhood cancer deaths have dropped steadily since 1979. In fact, mortality rates declined by one-third, according to the report. However, cancer incidence increased slightly, just under six percent, during the 17-year period.

How does New Jersey compare with the nation?

Childhood cancer trends in New Jersey mirror those in the United States. The state and U.S. mortality rates are identical, and both declined by one-third since 1979. Childhood cancer incidence also increased in the U.S. during the time period, although at a slightly faster rate than in the state. New Jersey's rate remains higher than the U.S., but the gap has narrowed over time. It is important to note that while national mortality rates are based on nationwide data, incidence rates are based on National Cancer Institute data representing about 10 percent of the population.

Did the report find any counties that had elevated cancer rates?

No. County-by-county rates for all the major childhood cancers were analyzed for the period 1979 to 1995. There were no statistically significant elevations compared with state rates.

As well as publishing cancer data, the department continuously monitors cancer incidence in the state and looks more closely at areas where there is concern about possible elevated cancer rates.

How does the department respond to concerns about cancer in the community?

The Office of Cancer Epidemiology is available to discuss the public's concerns about cancer in their communities. Staff answers questions, discusses citizen observations about cancer locally, and provides educational materials published by the department and other agencies. When warranted, the department works with the local health department to conduct more in-depth analysis to see if further investigation or studies are needed.

How common is childhood cancer?

Childhood cancers account for less than one percent of all cancers diagnosed both in New Jersey and nationally. In the 17 years covered by the New Jersey report, 4,075 childhood cancers were diagnosed, or about 200 to 250 a year.

Why does the report present data on childhood cancers diagnosed only through age 14?

National health agencies such as the National Cancer Institute define pediatric cancer as those occurring from birth through age 14. This standard definition enables comparisons between New Jersey data and national published data. In addition, the types of cancers observed in young people begin to shift at about age 15. For example, there are more testicular cancers and lymphomas -- which affect the white blood cells of the immune system -- in the 15 - 19 age group than in younger children.

Why doesn't the report give cancer rates for municipalities?

Although childhood cancers are very serious diseases, they are also very rare. The small numbers of cases in each county make it statistically difficult to see year-to-year differences that are significant, and not due to chance alone. In other words, a difference of one or two cases more or less a year can produce a rise or fall in rates that is not statistically meaningful. This problem is even more pronounced when analyzing municipality data, because the numbers of cases are even smaller.

The department also must protect the confidentiality of those in the Registry. Municipal numbers may be so small, that when analyzed by race, sex and type of cancer, an individual with cancer could inadvertently be identified. In addition, Registry data includes mailing addresses for individuals diagnosed with cancer, which may not reflect actual town of residence.

Who can use this report?

Members of the public and the media can use this report to learn about cancer rates and trends in the state and counties. Researchers may use it to target future studies on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of childhood cancer, while health planners can use the information to plan needed children's health services. The report also is being sent to legislators, local health officers, pediatricians and pediatric oncologists.


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