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Heart disease, cancer top health issues in area

Cancer prevention ideas are discussed at a recent meeting between Fulton County Public Health Department staff and Cancer Prevention in Action of Fulton, Montgomery & Schenectady Counties in Johnstown. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — Heart disease stands atop the slippery slope of life as the number one health problem out to get residents of Fulton County.

Fortunately, there is preventive medicine and committed public groups available in the area to combat this silent killer and other dreaded diseases and cancers, such as lung, breast and colorectal cancers.

Fulton County Public Health Director Laurel Headwell recently commented on the major health issues impacting county residents. Backed by the latest available state data, the county’s top health official noted these health issues by rank: 1. heart disease, 2. cancer, 3. chronic lower respiratory disease, 4. stroke, 5. unintentional injury.

Headwell noted that some of these health issues are shared regionally by other counties.

“In comparison to other counties near Fulton, they have similar, if not the same leading causes of death,” she said.

Ginger Champain, coordinator of Cancer Prevention in Action, shows off a Sun safety brochure to be put in public places during a recent meeting at the Fulton County Public Health Department in Johnstown. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

New York State Department of Health public data from 2016 shows that Fulton County had 179 heart disease related deaths. The figure was higher than 162 five years earlier, but lower than 193 recorded in 2008. Fulton County in 2016 had 137 cancer deaths, 47 chronic lower respiratory disease deaths, 22 deaths by stroke, and 19 unintentional injury deaths.

Cancer incidence and mortality for Fulton County from 2012-16 showed that the average annual deaths by cancer were 67 males and 63 females. Lung cancer and bronchial cases were among the highest.

Some of the DOH data is somewhat dated, but data related to cancers are broken down from 2005-09. Colorectal cancer incidence data from that period in the Glove Cities shows that the city of Gloversville had 42 male cases observed — 15 to 49 percent above what was expected; and 38 female cases observed — within 15 percent of what was expected.

Notable during those years was 36 male cases of colorectal cancer observed in city of Johnstown residents during the period, which was more than 50 percent of what was expected. Elsewhere in Fulton County, six female cases were more than 50 percent of what was expected.

Headwell said the Fulton County Public Health Department works collaboratively with multiple agencies on preventive care.

She said the county public health office offers vaccinations, refers individuals to St. Mary’s Cancer Services, works with the St. Mary’s Cancer Education and Prevention program to provide education, prevention, screenings, and reduction strategies. Referrals are also made to Nathan Littauer Hospital cancer screening programs.

Programs are free for eligible men and women.

Headwell noted that HealthLink at Nathan Littauer Hospital also offers many classes for chronic disease prevention, managing diabetes, offers health screenings, and multiple support groups for topics such as heart disease, chronic disease, tobacco free, Alzheimer’s. She said her department also works with Catholic Charities, HFM Prevention and other groups to make referrals “where it fits.”

“Collaboration is key to preventive care,” Headwell said. “One single agency isn’t always able to help the individual 100 percent, but with organizations working together, it allows for more care to be given and offered.”

Headwell said when it comes to Fulton County’s health issues, influences on health problems can be caused by multiple factors. They include genetics, behavioral risk factors, human mobility, time course of a disease and socioeconomic status.

“Not one factor is the underlying cause of the particular problems that we are seeing in Fulton County,” she said.

Headwell said area institutions are equipped to handle these important health issues.

“The residents of Fulton County are able to receive care in multiple ways,” she said. “Fulton County organizations are invested into the community here and trying to make the residents healthy, as well as give the residents the opportunity to become healthy with education and services that are offered for free.”

Serving the area is Cancer Prevention in Action of Fulton, Montgomery and Schenectady Counties. The group recently met with Fulton County Public Health staff in Johnstown to brainstorm ways to help combat high cancer rates in the area. Cancer Prevention in Action Coordinator Ginger Champain said there are many ways to bridge the gap with public awareness.

Champain said some employers can designate a certain amount of paid time off for their employees to receive cancer screenings.

“In Fulton County, that could be an extra benefit for them,” she said.

Cancer Prevention in Action is also spreading the word about taking action against cancers caused by Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, which there is a vaccine for. Eight in 10 New Yorkers may get HPV in their lifetime.

Champain told Fulton County public health officials that various groups can be contacted to improve knowledge about cancer prevention. They include the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce, Fulton-Montgomery Community College and youth groups. Although families need more education, Champain said public information has improved.

“We’re ahead of five years ago,” she said.

Champain said oral cancer has now surpassed cervical cancer as one of the top cancers and it is incumbent that dentist offices recognize problems in the annual checkups of their patients. She said her group would like to visit area dental offices to urge staffs to make “high quality recommendations” to their patients regarding oral cancer.

Headwell asked if local health officials have looked at going into schools about cancer screening.

Champain said her group hasn’t, but a joint effort could be launched. She said there has been some P-TECH program education about cancer, but added: “We’re really starting to get out in the community too.”

Other areas to look at for providing cancer prevention information are tanning booths and public parks. It was noted parks can be designated tobacco-free zones, and used to provide signs with tips on sun safety and tanning.

“That’s the kind of thing we can provide for those locations,” Champain said.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.

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