REVIEWER: Dan J. Grauman, computer specialist for the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health.

BACKGROUND: The National Cancer Institute (NCI) leads the nation's fight against cancer by supporting and conducting groundbreaking research in cancer biology, causation, prevention, detection, treatment and survivorship. The National Cancer Institute's goal is to stimulate and support scientific discovery and its application to achieve a future when all cancers are uncommon and easily treated. NCI works toward this goal by providing vision to the nation's cancer research effort and leadership for thousands of NCI-funded researchers across the United States and around the world.

PLATFORMS: Windows NT Server.

PROBLEM SOLVED: The National Cancer Institute wanted an interactive Web site that would offer easy access and simplify data visualization for people with no formal training in public health. We were lacking an ability to create dynamic, customizable thematic maps of cancer mortality rates for in-depth analysis. We put our Atlas of Cancer Mortality in the United States, 1950-94, online in December 1999 using MapInfo MapXtreme, which enables users to create dynamic, customized maps. This is the first time an interactive version of the atlas, a 360+ page book of maps, text, tables and figures showing the geographic patterns of cancer death rates throughout the United States from 1950-1994 for more than 40 cancers is available on the Internet. An enhanced version of the Web site was released in April 2001, which enables the user to create multiple maps and animate them in a slide show. MapInfo MapXtreme enables users to view cancer mortality data intuitively with easy-to-use electronic maps (versus tables, charts, narratives or other formats). Now, state health department workers around the country are using the Web site to enhance their responsiveness to public health inquiries. Several universities, including George Washington University and Harvard School of Public Health, are using the Web site as a valuable teaching tool. Private individuals are also able to easily research cancer mortality rates specific to their geographic area or other areas of interest.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: MapInfo MapXtreme is a wonderful piece of software. It enables our users not only to see the static maps contained in the Atlas of Cancer Mortality in the United States, 1950-94, but also to create dynamic maps customized to their specifications. Users can compare rates in different time periods, look at rates for any cancer type for several levels of geography, zoom and pan different areas of the country, and make map color selections. Since the application went live in December 1999, users created more than 750,000 maps. Recently enhanced and expanded, the application now includes five- year calendar periods and four age groups, and the user is now able to see time- lapse animation for geographic patterns and time trends.

STRENGTHS: The main strengths of MapInfo MapXtreme are its interactivity and flexibility. Mapping software allows information to be quickly investigated at many levels of detail and in many different dimensions. With MapInfo MapXtreme, the NCI is able to provide its users with dynamic mapping applications distributed over the Internet cost-effectively and easily. From a system viewpoint, updating and administrative issues, such as security and scalability, are handled routinely and easily.

WEAKNESSES: The waiting time during multiple map creation can be up to two minutes. This, however, is far outweighed by the ability to dynamically create the maps and will probably be reduced with the development of faster hardware.

SELECTION CRITERIA: The major reason for selecting the product was cost. There are other products in the marketplace that can create these types of thematic maps.

DELIVERABLES: Outputs include maps with legends and data tables. Users can view customized maps of counties or states, controlling parameters such as type of cancer, time period, race and sex. Because it is estimated that the vast majority of cancers are linked to lifestyle and environmental factors, the National Cancer Institute believes many of the leads provided by the new online atlas will guide further public health activities aimed at preventing cancer.

VENDOR SUPPORT: The vendor has been very supportive and responsive during pre- and post- implementation. The programmer assigned to the task is extremely creative and has on several occasions enhanced the ideas of the site's developer.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation seems to be complete and understandable. However, we decided that it would be more efficient and cost- effective to contract the programming task to the vendor, rather than doing it in house.

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