Coffee Hour with Frank Boscoe: Twenty Years of Cancer Mapping

Friday, October 13, 2017 - 3:30pm
Refreshments are offered in 319 Walker Building at 3:30 p.m. The lecture begins in 112 Walker Building at 4:00 p.m

Representative screen capture from the Environmental Facilities and Cancer Mapping web site (

About the talk

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, claiming over half a million lives annually and accounting for 22% of all deaths. Age-adjusted cancer mortality rates have dropped by a quarter from their 1991 peak, despite a wide perception that little progress has been made. Perhaps this is because we have gained relatively little new insight about what factors trigger cancer in the first place. There is a widespread belief - even a collective wish – that mapping cancer at a fine geographic scale will yield these insights. In this talk, I will describe my efforts over the past two decades to tackle this problem. My experience has led me to conclude that geographic variation in cancer rates, while real, is much less than popularly perceived; that variations in socioeconomic status can account for much of the geographic variation, but this fact has been somewhat underappreciated given that socioeconomic status is not collected by medical records systems; and that geographic variation is often spurious, explainable by previously undiscovered sources of error and bias in the data. Overall, the vast improvements in geographic information technology during this period have allowed great improvements in the precision of our existing knowledge, but have not been as helpful in generating new knowledge.


About the speaker

Frank BoscoeFrancis Boscoe received his Ph.D. from the Penn State Department of Geography in 2000. One year prior to completing his degree, he was hired as a research scientist with the New York State Cancer Registry in Albany, New York, where he remains today. He is also a research professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Albany. In 2003 he developed one of the first courses in Geographic Information Systems and Public Health in the country, which he taught through 2013. He has been a member of the Board of Directors of the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries (NAACCR), a non-profit corporation that oversees national cancer data collection standards, since 2014. In his free time, he competes in long-distance navigation races, including being a member of the winning team in the European Rogaining Championship in Tuscany in 2017.


Boscoe FP, Henry KA, Sherman RL, Johnson CJ. The relationship between cancer incidence, stage, and poverty in the United States. International Journal of Cancer 2016; 139(3): 607-612.

Boscoe FP, Talbot TO, Kulldorff M. Public domain small-area cancer incidence data for New York State, 2005-2009. Geospatial Health 2016; 11(1): 304.

Contact us

Penn State encourages qualified persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation or have questions about the physical access provided, please contact Angela Rogers in advance of your participation or visit.

Angela Rogers  office: 814-865-2493 email:

Coffee Hour