March 15, 2010

Maine researcher studies high cancer rate along border

— The Associated Press

FREDERICTON, New Brunswick — A medical researcher from Maine is in New Brunswick this week hunting for clues about why people living in counties along the border have higher than average rates of cancer.

''What is so different about this part of the state?'' Dr. Laurent Beauregard asked in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Beauregard, of the Institute for Human Genetics and Health in Bangor, is a guest speaker at the fourth annual Atlantic Omics Symposium and Expo in Moncton, New Brunswick. The gathering is hosted by the Atlantic Cancer Research Institute.

Cancer is traditionally thought of as an age-related illness. But even adjusted for age, Beauregard said, rates for lung, colorectal, prostate and breast cancer are higher in northern and eastern parts of Maine than in the rest of the United States.

He's looking at the overall information on population characteristics such as the environment, toxins, agriculture or forestry pesticides and herbicides, socioeconomic status and access to health care in the northern and eastern counties.

''We feel that somewhere in all of this information is the key to why there is such a high rate of cancer in that region of Maine,'' said Beauregard.

That's why he's in New Brunswick attending the symposium. Beauregard said he suspects the cause is genetic and the genetic profile of the populations in New Brunswick and Maine with their Irish, English, Scottish and French ancestors is similar.

''We feel there are tremendous similarities in our population and our environment,'' he said. ''It is a tremendous opportunity to develop good, strong working relationships.'' But Beauregard also said there may be multiple causes for higher cancer rates.

''It is an organized way at looking at very complex sets of data,'' he said about his study. ''We are approaching this with a very open mind.''

For example, he is looking at the impact of poverty in the region.

''The areas we are talking about are definitely the areas with the lowest per capita income,'' he said.

Beauregard, who has been working on his study for 12 months, believes it's too soon for results, saying, ''There is certainly a long way to go.''

The source of data being used in Beauregard's study is from the U.S. cancer registry. The most recent information is from 2004.

''We are looking to update this data with Canadian figures as well,'' he said.

So far, the researcher doesn't have specific numbers from New Brunswick showing similar cancer rates between northern and eastern Maine, but said, ''The suggestion is that it might be.''

Dr. Rodney Ouellette, CEO and director of discoveries at the Atlantic Cancer Research Institute, said Beauregard's research is interesting.

''I think it is an understudied question,'' he said. ''We are looking at a situation that is very complex. We are going to be taking notes.''

People often say cancer rates are higher in Atlantic Canada, said Ouellette, adding, ''There are a lot of unanswered questions.''

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