In what may be the first of its kind nationally, New York recently unveiled a comprehensive, interactive, statewide cancer data map that shows diagnosis rates and potentially hazardous sites nearby.

Launched May 3, and created by the New York State Department of Health, the map allows users to view how many people in a given geographic area have been diagnosed with cancer, including the type (23 different types are included, identified by the organ in which the cancer originated). It reflects peoples' addresses at the time of diagnosis (using state diagnosis data from 2003 through 2007 and population data from 2000), but doesn't take into account age or individual risk factors.

Users also can overlay an array of "environmental facilities and sites," such as chemical storage and hazardous waste facilities, brownfields and commercial pesticide sellers. By inputting an address or ZIP code, users can attain this information, easily zooming in and out of the map. But doing so comes with a warning -- they're raw numbers that should be carefully interpreted.

"It's a tool that people can use," said Department of Health Spokeswoman Claire Pospisil, "but like a lot of information, there are a lot of caveats."

Those warnings are prominently displayed on the department's FAQ page and have oft been repeated in news articles on the topic.

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Karen Wilkinson  | 

Karen is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.