I-TEAM: Deadly cancer hotspots uncovered across the CSRA

Published: Apr. 11, 2022 at 6:56 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - It’s groundbreaking research that’s 20 years in the making. A local epidemiologist and doctor has discovered cancer hotspots in the CSRA and across the state of Georgia.

These hotspots specifically look at some of the deadliest cancers: breast, colon, prostate, and lung cancer. The I-Team exposes what local counties have the greatest risk of deadly cancers and what you can do about it.

Dr. Justin Xavier Moore combed through two decades worth of data on cancer deaths in all 159 Georgia counties, and he says he was surprised by what he found.

“I didn’t know it was going to be that many clusters within the CSRA.”

Dr. Moore is an epidemiologist and assistant professor at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. He tells the I-TEAM his latest research is currently under peer review, but the American Association of Cancer Research asked him to share his findings this week at their annual meeting.

We asked Dr. Moore if people should be alarmed by the findings of his study.

“Yes, I mean, it’s a hot spot. We have data that suggests that the areas that are highlighted have been continuously, disproportionately affected by these diseases,” Dr. Moore said. “And something must be done.”

He doesn’t want his findings to scare you. He says they should empower you. And

If you live in certain areas, he says it’s important for you to know your risk is even higher.

Using medical data from 1999 to 2019, he identified cancer hot spots across the state. He found Burke County is a hotspot for deadly prostate cancer in both white and black men and for deadly colorectal cancer in black men and women. The county is also rural, has a high rate of poverty, and is home to Plant Vogtle.

We asked if he could even begin to guess a cause. Environmental? Diet? Family history?”

“That’s the point and why we do this research, because now we highlight the issue, and then to understand the etiology -- to understand what risk factors are driving it.”

He says that’s exactly why more research is needed.

McDuffie and Wilkes Counties were found to be a deadly colorectal cancer hotspot for all adults, no matter race or gender.

McDuffie County was also found to be a deadly lung cancer hotspot for black adults.

Jefferson and Jenkins Counties were discovered to be a deadly colorectal cancer hotspot for white men and women.

Warren County was a hotspot for many deadly cancers including breast cancer for all women, lung cancer for black men, and a colorectal cancer hotspot for all adults.

Glascock County is a hotspot for prostate cancer in black men, colorectal cancer in black adults, and lung cancer in adults, both black and white. But it wasn’t just our rural counties that were problematic.

Dr. Moore uncovered Richmond County was found to be a prostate cancer death hotspot in white men.

“So even though we have the Georgia Cancer Center here in Richmond County, you have individuals that are living in these communities and may not have a relationship with health providers, and in this area, there’s a lot of hesitancy in terms of even getting the care. That can be driven by medical racism. It can be driven by the fact that health insurance is contingent upon your job status and whether you actually have the time to go get the care.”

Dr. Moore said medical data was even used to identify a deadly cancer hotspot in Anderson, South Carolina where Chadwick Boseman grew up. You may remember before his Black Panther fame, Boseman played the Godfather of Soul and even came to Augusta for the Get On Up movie premiere in 2014.

In 2020, news of his death from early-onset colorectal cancer shocked the world. He was 43 years old.

“Guess what other county identies as a hotspot for early-onset colorectal cancer? Richmond County,” said Dr. Moore.

“Richmond County was THE ONLY county in Georgia to rank as a hotspot for early-onset colorectal cancer, and it put it within the top 5% In terms of risk of dying from early-onset colorectal cancer for the entire nation.”

So, what to do now with that information? Be proactive versus reactive.

“A lot of people actually have symptoms,” said Dr. Moore. “And they would just kind of dismiss it as ‘Oh, you know. It’s just me aging.’ Yeah, we’re aging, but with increasing age comes increased risk of cancer.”

He says it’s important to know your risks beyond your zip code. That meaning knowing your family risks and your lifestyle risks. Are you a smoker? Overweight? Are you stressed? If so, push for earlier screenings.

“There are a lot of great treatments. There a lot of great therapeutics that people in this cancer center here are working on, and we have access to. But oftentimes, we just don’t know about it, we don’t know about, hey, I can actually go get a simple prostate exam, and that may save my life. So don’t wait. And so for me, it’s about not waiting until it’s too late or thinking that it may not happen to you.”

Overall, the study found Georgia counties with the deadliest cancer outcomes tended to be more rural, have higher poverty rates and a higher percentage of black residents, and an overall older population.

Also, Dr. Moore encourages us all to make daily changes to reduce our risk including thirty minutes of exercise, reducing your stress, and eating more vegetables. Each lifestyle change can add up when it comes to your health.

The Georgia Cancer Center’s website has downloadable infographics to make it easier for you to understand your risk for each cancer – whether you’re in a hotspot or not.

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