Frequently Asked Questions about Census Tract Cancer Data

What do the census tract lists show?

The census tract lists show the number of people who developed the specific type of cancer while living in the census tract area between 2013 and 2017. The lists also show the number of people who might have been expected to get cancer in that time period, based on the size and age distribution of the population of the census tract.

How do you find out how many people have cancer? How is the information on cancer incidence collected?

Under the New York State Public Health Law, all individuals diagnosed with cancer in New York State must be reported to the New York State Cancer Registry. The Cancer Registry routinely audits hospitals, laboratories and other health care providers to ensure that all required reports are made. The Cancer Registry also has reporting agreements with most other states, including all of the states that border New York. Through these agreements, New York State residents who are diagnosed at hospitals or by health care providers in other states are also reported to the Cancer Registry. The North American Association of Central Cancer Registries has recognized the New York State Cancer Registry as meeting the highest standard for completeness of reporting.

What is "expected incidence"?

Some census tracts have more people living in them than others, though most are around 4,000 people. Because of this, we cannot just compare the number of people diagnosed with cancer in each census tract. Generally speaking, census tracts with more people living in them will have more people with cancer. Those with fewer people will have fewer people with cancer. Also, because cancer is more common in older people, the age of the people who live in a census tract is important. Census tracts where older people live will have more cancer than neighborhoods where younger people live.

Expected incidence is the number of people in a given census tract that would be expected to develop cancer within a five-year period if the census tract had the same rate of cancer as the State as a whole. The cancer rate for the entire state and the number of people in a census tract are used to estimate the expected incidence. Age and population size are also taken into account because you would expect to see more people develop cancer in a census tract with a larger population or a higher percentage of older residents. This process is called age adjustment.

What are "included census tracts"?

Some census tracts had too few cases to be shown for confidentiality reasons. These census tracts are combined with neighboring census tracts. In the index, these census tracts are listed with the census tract with which they were combined. The numerical values given are for the combined group of census tracts.

Why do the census tract lists only go through 2017?

The information used to produce the census tract lists is the most recent data available from the New York State Cancer Registry. Reporting to the Cancer Registry comes from hospitals, physicians, managed care organizations, laboratories, and other health care providers. Generally an individual is not reported to the Cancer Registry until they are discharged from the hospital. Under State law, the hospital or other health care provider has 180 days after diagnosis to report to the Cancer Registry. The North American Association of Central Cancer Registries has recognized the New York State Cancer Registry as meeting the highest standard for the timeliness of reporting.

Are the census tract lists based on where a person lives (place of residence) or the hospital where they were diagnosed?

The census tract lists are based on where the person lived at the time they were first diagnosed with cancer.

Why don't you provide more exact data about where people with cancer live?

By law, New York State must keep information about individuals with cancer confidential. To protect their privacy, we cannot show on a map where each person with cancer lives.

How do you know what census tract a person lives in?

Patient addresses are among the many pieces of information reported to the Cancer Registry by medical facilities. The addresses are matched to a census tract using a process known as geocoding. Staff at the Cancer Registry carefully review the geocoding results for accuracy.

Does my chance of getting cancer increase because I live in a census tract that has a higher incidence of cancer?

No. Just because you live or lived in a county or census tract that has a higher incidence of cancer, you are not more likely to get cancer than someone who lives or lived in an area of lower incidence. Cancer risk depends on many things, including your lifestyle (smoking, diet), family history, and contact with cancer causing substances (sunlight, x-rays, tobacco smoke, some chemicals).

If I live in a census tract that has a higher incidence of cancer, what is causing the increase? Is the environment to blame?

The cancer incidence data provided here cannot tell us that something in the environment causes cancer. Most cancers develop slowly in people. They usually appear five to 40 years after exposure to a cancer causing substance. This is called the latency period. Latency is one of the reasons it is difficult to determine what causes cancer in humans. Also, many people move several times during their life making it difficult to link exposures to cancer causing substances to where a person lives.

I am concerned that more people in my community have cancer than is usual. Where can I go for help?

The Cancer Surveillance Program in the New York State Department of Health's Center for Community Health responds to citizen concerns over cancer in communities. Over the years, we have come to realize that many people become concerned when they see a number of people being diagnosed with cancer because they are not aware of how common a disease cancer is, or that people are more likely to develop cancer as they grow older. It is also important to realize that cancer is not a single disease, but a collection of over 100 different diseases, each with its own risk factors. Of course, it is also possible that what a citizen is seeing may be an unusual occurrence of cancer, and so it is important to follow up on these reports.

If you are interested in speaking with someone from the Cancer Surveillance Program to discuss your concerns in detail, please send an e-mail to the link below. Please include in your e-mail a telephone number at which you may be reached during the day.

Are you going to provide data for other types of cancer? How about for children with cancer?

We have provided census tract data for the six most common types of cancer. Together, these cancers make up over half of all the cancers among New Yorkers. We cannot provide census tract data for rare types of cancer for confidentiality reasons. For example, childhood cancer is so rare even the larger census tract areas will have no more than one or two children with cancer. Data on other types of cancer, including childhood cancer, is available for counties from the New York State Cancer Registry web site.