The five-year Virginia Cancer Plan, 2013-2017, released last week by the Richmond-based nonprofit Cancer Action Coalition of Virginia, sets goals and strategies for the early detection and treatment of the disease, along with reducing preventable cancers throughout the state.
"It's a call to action from all levels, from policy makers to grass roots. It's very strategic and doable in four areas — prevention, early detection, treatment and survivorship. Everyone has the opportunity to make a difference," said coalition member Fredda Bryan, a breast cancer survivor and associate director and community health adviser for the American Cancer Society.
The plan is a partnership with the Virginia Department of Health. In endorsing its goals and strategies, former state Health Commissioner Cynthia Romero described it as "a working document."
According to Carlin Rafie, the coalition's chair, about 40,000 Virginia residents are diagnosed with cancer each year. Half of all new cases are preventable or could be detected by screenings early enough for them to be treated effectively, according to the American Cancer Society. The state has found a direct correlation between individuals' use of prevention screening and education levels. Thirteen percent of Virginians have not completed a high school education.
Annually, about 14,000 Virginians die from cancer-related illnesses. While lung cancer is the top killer for both men and women, breast cancer has a higher incidence in women and prostate cancer in men. Hampton is cited as one of the top five areas for cancer incidence in the state, due to the high proportion of prostate cancer in its African-American population; however, it is not in the top five for mortality, according to the coalition's report.
"It's not something that makes us panic. Increasing screening activity can increase your incidence. We have a very active advocacy group, the Hampton Roads Prostate Health Forum, that does a great job and sponsors a lot of screenings in Hampton," said Dr. Nzinga Teule-Hekima, interim health director for Hampton Health Department. "Looking at our incidence and comparing it to mortality speaks to our screening." However, the numbers have given her greater resolve to focus on overall prevention efforts through promoting healthier lifestyles.
Top priority in the plan's prevention strategy is to reduce individuals' exposure to tobacco products, which account for 85 percent of all lung cancer cases and one-third of all cancers with more than 9,240 Virginians dying from smoking-related illnesses annually. The CACV is advocating for spending $103.2 million on tobacco prevention, up from just $8.4 million in each of the past two years. "Smoking is one of the biggest risks for all cancers. We need to advocate prevention strategies — not smoking, exercising more, eating well," said Teule-Hekima.
The plan also urges an increase in the number of adolescents receiving the HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer. There are no current data on how many 6th-graders currently receive the recommended shot, which has an opt-out clause. However, with Pap smear screenings and the introduction of the HPV vaccine, the incidence of cervical cancer and mortality have decreased significantly, according to the state's cancer registry.
In terms of early detection, the CACV plan endorses the use of genetic screening based on individuals' risk profile as well as earlier screenings for populations at risk for breast, cervical, colon and prostate cancers. "We still need to see how we can change the later diagnosis and higher mortality rate in African-Americans," said Bryan.
For a full copy of the Virginia Cancer Plan, go to http://cancercoalitionofvirginia.org.
• Smokers who need help quitting the habit can get free counseling by calling the state's Quit Now line, 1-800-784-8669.
• Low-income women who have no insurance or who are underinsured can access breast and cervical cancer screenings by going to http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/ofhs/prevention/ewl or call 1-866-395-4968 to find a screening location.
• Tips for healthy living and cancer prevention:
Don't smoke; eat more fruits and vegetables; maintain a healthy weight; increase daily physical activity; and get screenings on schedule, according to your age and risk factors.
Salasky can be reached by phone at 757-247-4784.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun