UNION COUNTY, Fla. — Tommy Spires has seen what lung cancer can do to a family.
His father died from it.
“That’s what he died of is lung cancer. The doctor said he didn’t know if it was because of smoking or not,” said Spires.
Spires lives in Union County, the county with the highest number of deaths in the nation from lung cancer.
According to a study done by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, there are 231 deaths per 100,000 people there.
It's a shocking statistic for Spires.
“I don’t know what to think of it,” he said.
We reached out to the media specialists for the study and learned that about a third of the population in Union County are inmates in state prisons.
They say one of those prisons has a cancer treatment center that could be driving the high death rates in Union County. They provided more insight from Laura Dwyer-Lindgren, a researcher who authored the study, who wrote:
Union is unusual in that about a third of the population are inmates in state prisons. There's a few different facilities the Florida Department of Corrections runs in Union, but the one that's likely most relevant here is the reception and medical center (RMC). Based on the description online, it seems that most advanced medical care offered to prisoners in Florida is located at the RMC, and, importantly, they have a cancer treatment center on site. Our guess is that prisoners throughout Florida with cancer are likely to be relocated to this center, which in turn is (at least partially) driving the abnormally high cancer mortality rates in Union.
Note that we have not verified that Florida is actually relocating prisoners with cancer to Union. Everything I've seen online suggests that this is happening, but I can't find anything that just comes out and says it and we haven't attempted to get in touch with Florida Department of Corrections to ask.
It's also worth noting that certain conditions (HIV, hepatitis) are also just generally more common among prison populations, which is part of why Union has such high overall mortality rates, totally apart from this hospital. This is more relevant for infectious diseases though than cancer. "
Lauren Clark, a development manager with the American Lung Association, said early detection is key.
“That’s one of the scariest parts is that most people who find out, it's stage 4,” said Clark.
“After he was diagnosed, he lived about eight weeks, I think,” said Spires, of his father.
Clark said lung cancer is the leading cancer killer for men and women across the U.S. She said environmental factors, smoking and genetics play a role in who develops lung cancer.
Cox Media Group