A state contractor tampered with Maryland'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 released yesterday.
The company, Macro International Inc., found in an internal investigation that data were deliberately altered between August 2004 and December of that year. The company fired the employee responsible for the cancer registry. State officials said that Macro employees apparently overreported 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. About 10 of those women called the state Family Health Administration, part of the state's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene - one of the first indications that the cancer registry was inaccurate.
The database is often used by public health officials interested in cancer prevention and by epidemiologists who look for correlations between cases and environmental, lifestyle and other factors in an effort to find potential causes.
The case has been referred to the criminal division of Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler's office, which is looking into the matter.
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