Cancer claims many lives in Miami-Dade County, with a death rate of about 154 of every 100,000 people in 2014, according to a study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
But the disease did not kill nearly as many Miami-Dade residents that year as it did in 1980, when the death rate from cancer was about 221 of every 100,000 people — an improvement attributed to increased access to healthcare, advancements in medicine, higher education and incomes, and lifestyle changes that reduce risk factors such as drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco.
“In Miami-Dade County, the combination of the four is working to your advantage, and that’s why you’re doing very well,” said Ali Mokdad, a physician and lead author of the study.
Mokdad, a professor of global health at the University of Washington in Seattle, said the study aimed to provide a measure for communities to assess their population’s health while offering examples of strategies that have worked.
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“We want the public to know the problems they are facing,” he said. “We want the leadership to know what they should invest in for resources in public health. … We want the medical system to know, ‘Oh, this is a problem in my backyard.’ ”
But while Miami-Dade’s mortality rate for all cancers has declined, Mokdad said it is important to consider the disparities across and within communities. He noted that low-income areas of Miami with less access to healthy foods and healthcare were likely to have higher death rates from cancer when compared to more affluent areas.
In Broward, progress was mixed. Between 1980 and 2014, the period evaluated in the study, Broward had the nation’s greatest rise in death rate from cervical cancer, but also one of the biggest drops in death rate from brain and nervous system cancer.
Across the state, the study also found disparities. For example, Union County, near Gainesville, had the nation’s highest death rate from lung cancer in 2014 — about 231 deaths per 100,000 residents. By comparison, the death rate from lung cancer in Miami-Dade was about 34 of every 100,000 people.
Liver cancer was one of the few where mortality has climbed almost everywhere in the United States, including Miami-Dade, where the death rate rose by 46 percent over 34 years to about 6.6 of every 100,000 people. But the county’s mortality rate for breast cancer was about 23 of every 100,000 people in 2014, lower than the national rate of about 26 of every 100,000.
The takeaway from the study, Mokdad said, is that disparities in cancer death rates must be addressed through population health initiatives using successful communities as examples.
“The alternative is scary,” he said. “If we don’t address these issues, they will be more expensive in the long run. The disparities will continue widening in our communities. … We will fall behind every other country, especially our competitors.”