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UND starting cancer early warning system

UND is establishing an early warning system for cancer using data gathered from around the state thanks to a $1.65 million grant from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the university has announced.

North Dakota has long had the Statewide Cancer Registry that collects reports of new cancer cases, including details such as the location of the tumor, stage of diagnosis, cell type, treatment and other information, totaling more than 100 pieces of data.

But the state Department of Health, which oversees the registry, sought the help of UND's School of Medicine and Health Sciences to help to analyze the data and translate it into information that medical professionals, patients and the general public can use, the university said.

"Part of the data includes occupation," said Nancy Klatt, manager at the Altru Cancer Center. Medical professionals can use the data to see which individuals may be at highest risk of cancer, she said.

UND can also use the data to pinpoint cancer clusters, which are incidences of specific types of cancer within a group of people, or an area or a period of time that are greater than expected by chance alone.

"Part of their role is to look at that closer," Klatt said, "to see if there could be environmental risk factors" and to "respond to queries from the population."

The CDC estimates that cancer is the second leading cause of death in North Dakota, accounting for 23 percent of the mortality rate.

But UND won't just use data from the state registry, said Kim Sheldon, who works with the state registry. "They compare our stats with a nationwide stat to see how we're doing with our care."

Mary Ann Sens, chairwoman of UND's Department of Pathology, said in a statement Tuesday that the med school will use the data to "establish that cancer treatment in North Dakota is equitable, prompt and meets national standards."

Now operated by UND, the state registry, has met with the North Dakota Cancer Coalition to look at what actions and interventions can be taken further fight cancer. Two initiatives include promoting early detection and providing health care providers with up-to-date research.