Advancing Social and Environmental Research in Cancer Registries Using Geomasking for Address-Level Data

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Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention


Understanding the social and environmental causes of cancer in the United States, particularly in marginalized communities, is a major research priority. Population-based cancer registries are essential for advancing this research, given their nearly complete capture of incident cases within their catchment areas. Most registries limit the release of address-level geocodes linked to cancer outcomes to comply with state health departmental regulations. These policies ensure patient privacy, uphold data confidentiality, and enhance trust in research. However, these restrictions also limit the conduct of high-quality epidemiologic studies on social and environmental factors that may contribute to cancer burden. Geomasking refers to computational algorithms that distort locational data to attain a balance between effectively “masking” the original address location while faithfully maintaining the spatial structure in the data. We propose that the systematic deployment of scalable geomasking algorithms could accelerate research on social and environmental contributions across the cancer continuum by reducing measurement error bias while also protecting privacy. We encourage multidisciplinary teams of registry officials, geospatial analysts, cancer researchers, and others engaged in this form of research to evaluate and apply geomasking procedures based on feasibility of implementation, accuracy, and privacy protection to accelerate population-based research on social and environmental causes of cancer.

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