North Jerseyans are less likely to get cancer than their neighbors to the south.

A first-of-its-kind report released by the American Cancer Society points to a primary cancer culprit. It should come as no surprise that smoking is the problem.

The report titled, ‘The Cancer Burden in New Jersey’ shows the difference in cancer rates in South Jersey vs. North Jersey. The higher cancer incidence in South Jersey is attributed mainly due to a higher prevalence of smoking among residents. A top recommendation includes increased funding for the state’s anti-tobacco program.

The federal government recommends that New Jersey spend $119 million on tobacco control programs. Blair Horner, Vice President for Advocacy, American Cancer Society of NY & NJ says the state spent just $1.5 million last year.

“Tobacco use is the single most important factor associated with cancer mortality, and is identified by the U.S. Surgeon General as a cause of 16 different types of cancer.” says Ethan Hasbrouck, NJ Advocacy Director, American Cancer Society of NY & NJ. “Smoking accounts for at least 30 percent of cancer deaths, and both smoking rates and overall cancer rates are higher downstate than upstate.”

“Our analysis shows a ‘tale of two states,’” says Horner. “Downstaters face higher cancer rates than upstaters. Generally speaking, men in downstate counties are more likely to have higher than average lung cancer rates, the largest cancer killer. We also know that downstaters also tend to have higher smoking rates than those living upstate. We hope that this report will jump start a statewide discussion on how to reduce cancer incidence, identify cancers earlier, and to assist those in treatment.”

Using data from the New Jersey Department of Health, State Cancer Registry, the report closely examines incidence and mortality rates for New York’s four most common malignancies, lung, prostate, breast and colon cancer. Data regarding the number of cancer cases and deaths for these cancer sites is provided for the 21 counties of New Jersey.

Key findings in the report include; almost 50,000 New Jerseyans were diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and more than 16,000 died from the disease; prostate cancer is New Jersey’s most common cancer; and lung cancer is the largest cancer killer causing more than 4,100 deaths last year.

Recommendations include; creating policies and laws that prevent cancer such as adequately supporting anti-smoking programs; enhancing early detection; and easing the financial burden that comes with cancer treatments by ensuring that all New Jerseyans have access to quality, affordable health insurance.

Data for the report was gathered from the New Jersey Department of Health, State Cancer Registry and the American Cancer Society Cancer Facts & Figures 2011. Horner says when reading the report, care should be taken to avoid over-interpreting findings that show large disparities in cancer incidence and mortality particularly in counties with small populations.

The entire report with the county-by-county breakdown can be found online.