Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 9, 2014

Cancer study: Public participation key to research

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — We have certainly seen plenty of studies over the years detailing the chronic health woes of citizens living in the coalfield counties of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia. And normally these reports will tell us that the region as a whole is failing when it comes to the well being of area residents and children. Now a new cancer study — and arguable a different effort — is being launched by Virginia Tech.

The study has been requested by the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors, who have entered into a contract with Tech’s Department of Public Health Practice and Research at a cost not to exceed $75,000. While many citizens who keep a watchful eye on the activities of their local governing bodies may cringe at the thought of taxpayer dollars being expended on yet another study, the Tazewell County proposal appears to be well intended and, we believe, important. Whether it is simply perception or fact, cancer rates in parts of the county appear to be abnormally high. And concern has been prevalent in certain communities, including the far geographic reaching Southern District.

Board members have been talking about the high rates of cancer in the county for several years now. They voted Tuesday to enter into a contract with Virginia Tech for the study, which is expected to take about a year to complete.

The study team from Virginia Tech will be looking not only at existing statistics, including cancer and mortality rates, but also local incident rates of cancer that are being reported as well as possible outside environmental factors that could be influencing local cancer rates.

“One main issue we want to look at is an under reporting of statistics to see if that might be a problem,” Amy Smith, who works at Virginia Tech’s Department of Public Health Practice and Research, told the board last week. “And we want to take a look at some of the environmental factors that might affect cancer. Some things you can’t do anything about, like your age, gender or genetics. You can’t do anything about those, and those are all things that affect cancer. But there are things you can do something about that affect cancer. Those things are environmental factors, lifestyle factors, tobacco, physical activity and diet. What we want to do is look at that bigger picture and things in the environment like radon, air quality, water quality, soil quality, just to see if there might be anything there affecting cancer statistics in our area.”

Now that the board has made the decision to expend public funding for this study, public participation will be critical. Otherwise, valuable tax dollars will be wasted. The study team from Virginia Tech is hoping to hear from citizens across Tazewell County. And there are certainly many families who have been impacted by cancer. It is those individuals that Virginia Tech is specifically hoping to hear from.

“We are going to make this very easy for everyone to participate,” Northwestern District Supervisor Seth White said last week. “We want your information. The more participation, the better numbers and the closer to an actual picture we can get.”

It will be interesting to see what final results the study team will come up with, including whether any outside environmental factors could be influencing cancer rates in the county. But in order for the study to be effective, public participation will be critical. It is our hope that all concerned citizens will be willing to help.