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Discovering the causes of cancer and the means of prevention

NCI GeoViewer Expanded with Historical Data from the U.S. Cancer Mortality Maps

In a close collaboration with the NCI Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences (DCCPS), investigators in DCEG recently completed the migration of historical U.S. mortality data from the NCI Cancer Mortality Maps (CMM) website to GeoViewer, a visualization mapping tool that until now only displayed the most recent five years of data.

Map depicts age-adjusted death rates in the U.S. by state (2008 to 2012) for females of all races, from non-Hodgkin lymphoma.  

Since their creation, the maps have allowed researchers to identify unusual patterns in cancer mortality which stimulated further studies to identify potential carcinogens. For example, certain hot spots on the maps led to the discovery of asbestos exposure as the cause of lung cancer in World War II shipyard workers, and snuff use as the cause of oral cancer in women in the southeast. The first maps, published in 1975 as the Atlas of Cancer Mortality for U.S. Counties, included data from 1950 through 1969 for white males and females; a subsequent atlas provided data for non-whites. Since that time, updated atlases were published with more recent data and covering blacks. In 2002, the Web version of the Cancer Mortality maps was published and subsequently updated with data through 2004 in 5-year increments.

This latest effort, which began in 2014 with an award from the inaugural DCEG Informatics Tool Challenge, combines CMM historical data with GeoViewer. Its first phase launched with the most recent five years of mortality data, and the addition of earlier mortality data (in 10-year increments) is ongoing. GeoViewer includes the following enhancements:

  • Data on demographics, incidence, prevalence, screening and risk factors;
  • Newer graphical user-interface to produce highly customizable maps that can be refined by the user;
  • Improved back-end functionality to make future uploading of new data easier;
  • Addition of Health Service Areas (HSAs), which are single counties or clusters of contiguous counties that are relatively self-contained with respect to hospital care. Increasingly researchers are looking at maps with HSA boundaries because they can cross state lines and can provide more homogeneous populations than State Economic Areas (SEAs), which do not cross state lines.
  • Provides one unified NCI tool for visualization of national cancer data.