Prostate cancer death rate in Boston puzzles researchers

Prostate cancer death rate in Boston puzzles researchers

Reason behind numbers unclear

Despite its status as a health care mecca, the Boston area has some of the highest numbers of prostate cancer-related deaths in the state, according to a local nonprofit health group.

“If you look at prostate cancer mortality rates, you will see that statewide data would be probably lowest nationally. But if you start looking at Suffolk County, Boston specifically, that’s where the data are the worst,” said Dr. Faina Shtern, president of AdMeTech Foundation, a nonprofit supporting early detection and treatment of diseases.

According to Shtern, Franklin County in western Massachusetts has the highest mortality rate at 28.8 percent, with Suffolk County a close second at 26.9 percent.

The numbers are based on data from the American Cancer Society, the state Department of Public Health and the National Cancer Institute.

Shtern, who formerly served as director of radiology research at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said the reason behind these high numbers is unclear.

She said it was initially suspected that the high incidence of prostate cancer among African-American men — who are 60 percent more likely to develop it and 240 percent more likely to die of it than white men — played a role, but that would not explain the high rates in Franklin County.

According to 2010 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 24.5 percent of Suffolk County identified as black or African-American, but only 1.4 percent of Franklin County identified as the same.

“There is absolutely no scientific evidence of any kind that would indicate why this is happening,” Shtern said.