Frequently Asked Questions

What does this map show?

The map shows the total and counts for 23 types of cancer newly diagnosed from 2011 through 2015 by census block group in New York State. The map also shows highlighted areas where the incidence of cancer was higher or lower than expected. In addition, the map shows the locations of environmental facilities across the state.

Which types of cancer are shown on the map?

Many types of cancer are shown on the map, some of which are quite rare. Cancers are identified by the organ in which the cancer originated. The map displays the following cancer types:

  • Bladder (including in situ)
  • Bone
  • Brain and other nervous system
  • Breast
  • Colon and rectum (colorectal)
  • Esophagus
  • Kidney and renal pelvis
  • Larynx
  • Leukemia
  • Liver and intrahepatic bile duct
  • Lung and bronchus
  • Mesothelioma
  • Nasal cavity and nasopharynx
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Oral cavity and pharynx (excluding nasopharynx)
  • Ovary
  • Pancreas
  • Prostate
  • Soft tissue
  • Stomach
  • Testis
  • Thyroid
  • Uterus

For more information see Learn More About Different Types of Cancers.

What types of environmental facilities and sites are shown on the map?

The map displays the following types of environmental facilities and sites:

  • Water discharge sites
  • Petroleum bulk storage
  • Air emissions sources
  • Hazardous waste management facilities
  • Active solid waste sites
  • Large quantity hazardous waste generators
  • Brownfields Cleanup Program sites
  • State Superfund Program sites
  • Vehicle dismantling facilities
  • Commercial pesticide sellers
  • Chemical bulk storage
  • Environmental Restoration Program sites
  • Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) corrective action sites
  • Voluntary Cleanup Program sites
  • Major oil storage facilities (MOSF).

For more information on the environmental facilities and sites, see Learn More about Different Types of Environmental Facilities.

What data were used to make the map?

The following types of data were used to make the map:

  • Cancer data: As mandated by Public Health Law, the New York State Cancer Registry collects, processes and reports information about every New Yorker diagnosed with cancer.
  • Environmental facility location data: Data on the location of the environmental facilities shown on the map were provided by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.
  • U.S. 2010 Census data: Information on the number of people living in New York State by census block group was obtained from data collected as part of the 2010 Census and projected through 2015, incorporating information from county level estimates from 2011 through 2015.

Will it be possible to identify me as a cancer patient on the map?

It is very unlikely that an individual person will be identified from these data. Because of concerns about patient confidentiality, when necessary, block groups were combined to prevent the identification of individuals.

What is a block group?

A block group is a geographic area defined by the U.S. Census. It is a collection of city blocks, or their equivalents in rural areas, containing about 1,000 to 2,000 people.

Why were block groups used to make the map?

To calculate the expected number of cancer cases for a geographic area, accurate, detailed information is needed about the people living in the area. The block group is the smallest area suitable for statistical analysis. Using block groups allowed the Department to provide the expected number of cases for the smallest possible geographic areas.

Why were block groups combined in some areas?

To protect patient confidentiality, in some areas block groups were combined with neighboring block groups to prevent identification of individual people with cancer. Block groups were combined until the area contained a minimum of six total male cases and six total female cases.

Why do some block groups seem to have a lot of cancers?

Although most block groups have between 1,000 and 2,000 people living in them, there are some block groups with fewer people, and some with more. In areas with more residents, you would expect to see more cases of cancer. Also, cancer is more frequent among older persons, so there may be more cases of cancer in communities where residents are older.

How can I calculate a rate for an area?

To calculate a crude annual (one-year) rate using the Five-Year Cancer Count data, multiply the population by five and then divide the cancer cases by this number. Multiplying the population by five is necessary because the cancer cases cover five years while the population is an average over five years. The crude annual rate will allow you to compare rates between areas with different-size populations. The crude rate does not take into account differences in the age structures of the different areas (for example, percent of the population that is elderly), which can be important since cancer is mostly a disease of older people.

What is the difference between the cancer counts and the highlighted areas?

The cancer counts are the number of people in a block group (or combination of block groups) diagnosed with each type of cancer from 2011 through 2015. The highlighted areas reflect where statistical testing showed cancer incidence to be higher than expected (pink area) or lower than expected (blue area).

What do you mean by higher or lower than expected? What is expected cancer incidence?

As noted above, you would expect areas with more residents to have more cases of cancer, and areas with fewer residents to have fewer cases of cancer. Since cancer occurs more often among older people, you would expect areas where residents are older to have more cases of cancer than areas where residents are younger. Also, some cancers that occur in both males and females occur more often in one sex than another. To take these characteristics into account, researchers calculate the expected incidence of each cancer type. Expected cancer incidence is calculated using cancer rates for NYS as a whole applied to the population of an area, taking into account the area's age and sex distribution. This shows the number of cases that would occur in the area if the people there developed cancer at the same rate as people in all of NYS.

What does a pink highlighted area mean?

A pink highlighted area indicates that there were at least 50% more cases of cancer actually observed than were expected.

What does a blue highlighted area mean?

A blue highlighted area means that there were at least 50% more cases expected than were actually observed.

Why are there 2 sets of highlighted areas (low/high)?

Areas of lower (blue) than expected cancer incidence and higher (pink) than expected cancer incidence are shown to provide a more complete picture of how cancer rates vary across New York State. Just as there are areas where cancer incidence is greater than expected, there are also areas where incidence is less than expected.

How were the highlighted areas identified?

A method called the spatial scan statistic was used to identify the areas to be highlighted. This method looks at observed and expected cancers in each individual block group (or block group combination) in the state and in increasingly larger circular areas centered around each individual block group (or block group combination).

How did you decide on a 50% excess in observed or expected cases for the highlighted areas?

When deciding the size of a cancer excess or deficit to test for, many possibilities were considered. Testing for smaller differences (excesses or deficits) would result in larger highlighted areas. While these larger areas would be less likely to have occurred by chance, they would be much larger than what most people are interested in. Testing for larger differences would result in smaller highlighted areas, but for some cancers no areas would be highlighted. A 50% excess in observed cases would give the best balance between statistical testing and public interest in a consistent way for all cancers mapped.

Am I more at risk if the block group I live in has a lot of cancer or I live in a "pink" highlighted area?

If you live or lived in a block group or a combination of block groups that seems to have a high number of cancer cases, or live or lived in a "pink" highlighted area, it does not mean that you are more likely to get cancer. Your risk depends on many things including your age, lifestyle (smoking, diet), family history, and contact you have had with cancer causing agents (sunlight, X-rays, tobacco smoke, some chemicals).

Am I less at risk if I live in a "blue" highlighted area?

No. As indicated above, your risk of developing cancer is primarily based on your individual risk factors. Living in a "blue" highlighted area does not mean your individual risk of developing cancer is reduced.

Why are there no highlighted areas for some types of cancer?

Some cancers occur at the same, or nearly the same, rate in all locations. Any small variations that are seen are likely due to chance. There are no highlighted areas for cancers of the pancreas, soft tissue, and uterus.

Do all block groups in a "high" highlighted area have high cancer rates?

No. The highlighted areas represent an average over many block groups. Individual block groups within a "high" highlighted area may have average or even below-average rates. Similarly, individual block groups within a "low" highlighted area may have average or even above-average rates.

Can the map tell me if environmental facilities are related to increased cancer in my community?

No. The map cannot prove that something in the environment, including emissions from environmental facilities, causes cancer.

Cancers develop slowly in people. Cancers due to exposure to a cancer-causing agent usually appear 5 to 40 years after the exposure. This is called the latency period. This is one of the reasons it is difficult to determine what causes cancer in humans.

The map with cancer data shows where people lived at the time of their cancer diagnoses. We do not know if the people with cancer lived in the area 5 to 40 years ago or if they could have breathed, eaten, drank or touched any cancer-causing agents released from the environmental facilities. We also do not know anything about their individual risk factors for cancer.

The map with environmental facilities data shows the facility locations. It does not provide information about whether or not chemicals were released to the environment or whether people might have breathed, eaten, drank or touched any chemicals from these facilities.

Will the data used to make these maps be made publicly available?

The data used to make the maps will be made available through New York State's open data portal, Health Data NY. The data will include cancer-related data fields only. Items include counts for 23 different types of cancer, counts of total cancers and expected numbers of cases for each cancer type for each block group (or block group combination) on the map. An indicator of whether that block group is in a highlighted area will also be provided.

What will the Department of Health do for areas where cancer incidence is elevated?

The Department of Health has identified areas for further study as part of the Governor's Cancer Research Initiative. These areas were selected because they were highlighted as having greater than expected cancer incidence for multiple cancer sites. As part of the initiative, the Department of Health will further review the cancer data and examine data on potential sociodemographic, behavioral, occupational and environmental factors that may be influencing cancer incidence.

The Department of Health will continue to conduct ongoing activities to prevent and reduce cancer including:

  • Promoting public awareness about individual risk factors for cancer and recommended screening tests.
  • Providing breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screening and diagnostic services to the uninsured and underinsured.
  • Encouraging health care provider-based approaches to smoking cessation and maintaining the Smoker's Quitline to assist New Yorkers when they are ready to stop smoking.
  • Identifying and assessing exposures through routine environmental health activities and taking action to reduce those exposures when necessary.
  • Providing public health education about health outcomes and exposures.

In addition, the data used to produce these maps will be available through Health Data NY for researchers and others interested in conducting further evaluations of cancer incidence, particularly cancer research institutions that are able to conduct in-depth evaluations.

Research suggests that cancers are primarily due to individual risk factors (such as tobacco use, physical inactivity, alcohol use, workplace exposures, and family and personal medical history). These factors were not taken into account when the highlighted areas (where cancer incidence is higher or lower than expected) were identified because data on these individual risk factors are not available for census block groups. For some of the individual risk factors, data are available only at the state or county level, for others (such as family and personal health history) data are not available at any level.

How should these maps be interpreted and used by the public?

The maps provide the public with additional information about cancer incidence in New York State. However, they do need to be interpreted with caution. Simply living in an area that is highlighted does not mean a person is more likely to get cancer than someone who does not live in a highlighted area. Cancer risk depends on many factors such as age, lifestyle (smoking, diet, etc.), family history, and contact people have with cancer causing agents (e.g., sunlight, X-rays, tobacco smoke, some chemicals).

What is the practical use of these maps?

The maps may be useful in identifying areas of the state where education and outreach may be needed about the causes of cancer, as well as the benefits of cancer screening and early detection. The maps may also assist in identifying communities where support services are needed for cancer patients and their families.