CHICAGO - New research suggests that childhood cancer is most common in the Northeast, results that caught scientists off-guard.
The large government study is the first to find notable regional differences in pediatric cancer. Researchers say it also provides important information to bolster smaller studies, confirming that cancer is rare in children, but also more common in older children, especially among white boys.
The study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is based on data representing 90 percent of the US population. It found that cancer affects about 166 out of every million children, a number that shows just how rare childhood cancers are.
The highest rate was in the Northeast with 179 cases per million children, while the lowest was among children in the South with 159 cases per million.
The rates for the Midwest and West were nearly identical, at 166 cases per million and 165 cases per million, respectively. The cancer incidence in boys was 174 cases per million, compared with 157 cases per million in girls. In white children, the rate was 173 per million, versus 164 per million in Hispanics and 118 per million in African-Americans. A total of 36,446 cases were identified in the study, which analyzed 2001-03 data from state and federal registries. The research appears in the June edition of Pediatrics, which was being released today.
"It's very powerful that this study includes so much of the US population so it gives us a good picture of where we are with the incidence of these childhood cancers," said Elizabeth Ward, the American Cancer Society's surveillance director.
Researchers said the regional differences, though small, are intriguing, but that reasons for them are uncertain.
Dr. Lindsay Frazier, a cancer specialist at Children's Hospital and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, said pollution and housing stock that's older than anywhere else in the nation might help explain the Northeast's higher rates.