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How can using GIS help cancer research and cancer control activities?

Using GIS to interpret spatial context and cancer risk

An individual’s health is affected by one’s “spatial context,” that is, where one lives. Spatial context is characterized by three domains that influence health through local exposures, risks, and available care:

  • Specific geographic/environmental conditions, particularly, the quality of the air, water, and food supply
  • Neighborhood characteristics that influence lifestyle and stress, such as crime, easy access to exercise, access to tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs
  • Health services, such as available clinics, hospitals, and appropriate numbers of primary care and specialist health professionals

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is investigating how spatial context affects cancer risk and asked Westat to contribute its geographic information system (GIS) expertise to the effort.

  • Westat is coordinating an outreach and education program to raise awareness of how GIS and spatial analysis methods can be applied by individual state cancer registries to their cancer research and cancer control activities.
  • We are providing recommendations on developing GIS web mapping tools, including tools for choosing mapping schemes, classifying cancer rates, and choosing variables to be mapped.
  • We are providing recommendations on the redesign of NCI's "Geographic Information Systems and Science for Cancer Control" web site. The site is a central source of information about GIS and related resources for use by the public, cancer researchers, and the media.  Westat’s recommendations will include site content organization and placement, graphic design, and maintenance and updates.
  • Westat’s contributions to the SEER program will help establish a GIS specialty infrastructure to continue investigations into spatial context and cancer risk.

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