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Study finds health disparities in St. Louis region

 A new report suggests that a St. Louis area cancer victim's chances of recovery are too often predicted by where the person lives.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ( ) reports findings from the St. Louis Regional Health Commission that cites cancer mortality disparities in St. Louis city and county.

Overall, the report looks at 14 health measures at ZIP code level from 2000 to 2010.
Cancer rates are declining in the region, both for cases diagnosed and deaths. But health experts say they are concerned by stark racial differences. For example, black men die of prostate cancer at more than twice the rate of white men.
Two-thirds of women from affluent areas like Ladue and Chesterfield who died of breast cancer lived past age 75, but in lower income ZIP codes, fewer than half of women who died of breast cancer lived that long. The data do not account for the type of breast cancer, which can be more aggressive in younger and black women. And it does not account for the percentage of women who died after recurrence of the disease.
"This particular report is designed to be an objective, agnostic resource for the community to start dialogue about some of the leading health issues we face, to really talk about where we've come from, and help set priorities for where we're going in the next decade," said Eric Armbrecht, a lead author of the study and assistant professor at Saint Louis University's Center for Outcomes Research.
"There are definitely findings that are troubling and many success stories that are worth celebrating."
The study found that hospitalization rates for lung disease are higher in a swath of land northwest from downtown St. Louis. The area surrounds Interstate 70, which runs through dense neighborhoods, pointing to an influence of air pollution and other environmental factors.
But portions of the city and county near other highways do not have similar hospitalization rates for bronchitis or emphysema. Experts say the hospitalizations are likely linked to smoking rates, which are unknown at the ZIP code level.
A task force of local leaders sponsored the report. Armbrecht said that although disparities in health care are nothing new, those involved in the study were surprised by certain figures. Among them: Lung cancer kills people at a rate two times higher than breast cancer; and more people in the region die from colorectal cancer (259 in 2009) than breast cancer (223), which gets more charitable attention.
"We don't have 10,000 people marching through downtown St. Louis to address colorectal screening," Armbrecht said.
Experts believe many deaths from cancer, diabetes and heart disease are preventable, and the data can offer a road map for allocating resources for prevention and research.

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