After a very slow start, the three-person staff of the V.I. cancer registry, with help from an outside contractor, plans to make public information on the incidence, risk factors and mortality of cancer in Virgin Islanders towards the end of 2018.
The V.I. Central Cancer Registry was mandated by law in 1999 but not until more than a decade later did the V.I. Health Department program move forward. In 2012, Health received a $418,000 grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior and, in 2014, an outside contractor, Reflectx Oncology, was hired to lead the process and provide technological support.
The program is part of the Chronic Disease Program at the Charles Harwood Memorial Hospital on St. Croix.
According to Kathleen Arnold-Lewis, territorial director of the CDP, the cancer registry program was launched in February 2015 and data collection began with cases diagnosed on and after Jan. 1, 2016. Physicians and facilities were contacted initially by mail and notified of the requirements.
Information for the registry is being gathered from the territory’s hospitals, local and stateside pathology laboratories, hospice care centers, ambulatory surgery centers, chemotherapy clinics and physicians. Information is also obtained about V.I patients from other state cancer registries.
By law, health care providers must report information on cancer patients to the VICCR within 180 days of diagnosis. Demographic information, such as age, sex, race, place of residence and occupation is collected as well as the type of cancer, diagnosis date, treatment and stage at which the cancer was diagnosed. The reporting form and other information about the program can be found on the Health Department website.
Arnold-Lewis declined to say how much information has been compiled to date because she said data collection on a single case may take up to 18 months. In some cases, staff has visited doctors’ offices multiple times to conduct research.
“You might be looking through cases and cases but may have multiple types of cancer, so I’m reluctant to give numbers at this point,” she said.
By the end of 2018, however, Arnold-Lewis said a report should be published for public use and the program will continue with constant updates and new information.
According to Arnold-Lewis, the rate of cancer deaths increased in the Virgin Islands from 2003 – 2013, overtaking heart disease as the leading cause of death in the territory. Until the VICCR was established there was no centralized cancer surveillance system in the territory.