Hometown cancer hotspots in the Finger Lakes

Does where you live increase your chances of getting cancer? New data indicates it certainly plays a role. Some of our local counties have some of the highest rates of cancer in all of New York State and health professionals are still trying to find out why. Governor Andrew Cuomo has directed the state health department to undertake a study to determine why there are deviations in cancer rates across New York.

Melanie Haers was 30 years old, with a one-month-old daughter when she had a seizure in the middle of the night and was rushed to the hospital. “They did a scan and the doctor walked in and said you have a tumor on the left side of your brain,” she tells News10NBC. No signs, no symptoms, an otherwise healthy young woman had brain cancer, “my heart is like… who is going to raise my daughter,” Melanie recalls.

She had surgery, then chemo, then radiation, all the while thinking about how badly she wanted to have another child for her daughters sake. “She has a lot of cousins and my husband is a wonderful father but there is no bond like having a sibling and so, if I pass away, I want that connection for them,” she recalls thinking.

As rare as Melanie’s situation sounds, it’s not. Ontario County, where she lives, has one of the highest rates of brain cancer in all of New York State. “I think anyone who gets cancer asks why and they search their background for reasons,” says Dr. Nancy Bennett, Director of the Center for Community Health at URMC. But it’s not always easy to find an answer, “probably 30% of our health is determined by genetics, probably another 40% of our health is determined by our behaviors and probably 10-15% is caused by our environment,” Dr. Bennett adds.

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