Importance of Cancer Registry

Cancer is a major national burden. Cancer is the second leading cause of death among Americans. In the year 2000 alone, an estimated 552,200 Americans died of cancer. This amounts to more than 1,500 people a day. Each year, cancer costs our nation an estimated $107 billion in health care expenditures and lost productivity from illness and death.

Reducing the nation's cancer burden is a great and noble cause that involves many people, including physicians, researchers, epidemiologists, public health planners, legislators, medical students, and others. All of these people appreciate and rely on cancer data in their effort to win the "War on Cancer."

Physicians need cancer data to learn more about the causes of cancer and detect cancer earlier, thereby increasing the chance of finding a cure. Cancer specialists make treatment choices based on accurate cancer data from such sources as reports from pathologists and cytologists. Even after treatment, cancer specialists still need cancer data to follow-up with the patient long enough to determine whether the treatment has worked and, if not, to determine why not. Because cancer registries provide this type of data, they are valuable research tools for those interested in the etiology, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer.

Cancer data may point to environmental risk factors or high risk behaviors, so preventive measures can be taken to reduce the number of cancer cases and resulting deaths. Local, state, and national cancer agencies and cancer control programs also use registry data from defined areas to make important public health decisions that maximize the effectiveness of limited public health funds, such as the implementation of screening programs.

Lifetime follow-up is another important aspect of the cancer registry. Current patient follow-up serves as a reminder to physicians and patients to schedule regular clinical examinations and provides accurate survival information.

In brief, the importance of cancer registries lies in the fact that they collect accurate and complete cancer data that can be used for cancer control and epidemiological research, public health program planning, and patient care improvement. Ultimately, all of these activities reduce the burden of cancer. As Dr. Donna Shalala, the former Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, noted: "A national system of cancer registries can help us understand the disease better and use our resources to the best effect in prevention and treatment."