Maryland state cancer database deliberately altered

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MRI image of patient with cervical cancer extending into right parametrium. Source: Madison Radiologists  

A Maryland state contractor tampered with the state’s cancer registry, a database used by researchers to track the disease's impact, counting hundreds of patients as having cancer when they did not, according to a legislative audit.

An internal investigation revealed that Macro International deliberately altered data between August 2004 and December of that year, the Baltimore Sun reported. The company said it has fired the employee responsible for oversight of the cancer registry.

The Sun reported that Maryland state officials said that Macro employees apparently over-reported the incidence of cancer to ensure that the database met standards set by a national certification association, which closely monitors registries to ensure that states have a complete count of cases.

The misinformation led researchers to send an estimated 400 women letters beginning in 2005 asking them to participate in a cervical cancer study when they did not have the disease, the Sun reported. About 10 of those women called the state’s Family Health Administration, part of the Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which was one of the first indications that the cancer registry was inaccurate.

The case has been referred to the criminal division of Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler's office, which is looking into the matter, according to the Sun. The state health department also sent the results of its inspector general's investigation to the federal Department of Health and Human Services and its office of research integrity.

"We have been forced to go back and make sure that this data is accurate,” Maryland Health Secretary John M. Colmers told the Sun. "This has delayed getting that information out there and delayed research activities.”

The cancer registry, created in 1982, tracks all new cases of cancer diagnosed or treated in Maryland. Physicians, hospitals and other medical providers are required by law to report information to the database, which includes patient names and addresses as well as a complex system of coding for the types of cancer and treatments.