Officials take on more extensive cancer survey

As a follow-up to last summer’s report of a cancer cluster investigation in the area of the Indian River Power Plant by Delaware Health and Social Services’ Division of Public Health, a comprehensive survey is now being conducted across Sussex County.

The three main groups of people the Delaware Division of Public Health particularly wants to talk with are people recently diagnosed with lung cancer while living in Sussex County; people with family members who lived in Sussex County and died from lung cancer after Jan. 1, 2000; and Sussex County residents who have no history of cancer.

The original report was developed using data from the Delaware Cancer Registry, a confidential registry where, by law, each new cancer diagnoses in Delaware has to be reported, according to Allison Shevock, chronic disease epidemiologist with the Delaware Division of Public Health.

The zone of interest for that report was the towns and non-incorporated areas using ZIP codes 19939, 19945, 19947, 19966, 19970 and 19975.

The new survey will be more comprehensive, in that it will look at information from people from across Sussex County, as a whole.

“An important distinction between the original report and this is that the original report looked at numbers. This survey is a follow-up to that report, by talking with people about their individual characteristics, lifestyle behaviors, migration information, etc.” explained Shevock.

The Division of Public Health will be contacting the recently diagnosed and the cancer-free participants. Residents only need to contact them if, for some reason, they have been recently diagnosed with lung cancer but have not yet been contacted by DPH or if they are a family member of a person recently deceased and would like to provide a proxy report on their behalf.

“Those are the only people that we need to have contact us,” explained Shevock. “They are a large part of the population, and we can supplement our numbers with information from people who have passed away recently. We don’t want to invade their privacy and that is the most respectful, tactful way to include their relatives’ information.”

The survey will allow DPH to run statistics on many different aspects of the issue, such as the average age at which area cancer patients were diagnosed and male-to-female ratios. In the cancer-free segment, they will use similar demographics, to make their findings truly comparable.

The survey will be broken into nine core sections: demographics/migration; health history; tobacco use; environmental exposure; occupational exposure, health care, physical activity, diet and alcohol use.

“It will allow us to get the big picture by taking into consideration all those areas,” said Shevock.

After being contacted and agreeing to participate, participants will be sent an information packet and consent form they need to return. At that point, they will be ready to be interviewed. The survey lasts about 45 minutes — a little less for those without any type of cancer.

Shevock said that recruitment has already begun, and data collection and review will take from April through July. Data entry and analysis will run through December, with public results expected to be available in early January 2009.

For more information, call (302) 744-1084. The complete original report is online at; click on “cancer cluster investigations in Delaware.” At the same Web site, the public can also learn more about what a cancer cluster is and how to report a suspected cluster.