Our View: Kentucky needs change to curb cancer rates

Published 9:19 am Friday, August 2, 2019

Kentucky falls short in some key areas of the fight against cancer, according to the latest edition of “How Do You Measure Up?: A Progress Report on State Legislative Activity to Reduce Cancer Incidence and Mortality.”

How Do You Measure Up? rates states in eight specific areas of public policy that can help fight cancer: increased access to care through Medicaid, access to palliative care, balanced pain control policies, cigarette tax levels, smoke-free laws, funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs, cessation coverage under Medicaid and restricting indoor tanning devices for people under 18.

While Kentucky needed work in the areas of smoke-free laws, tobacco prevention funding and indoor tanning device restrictions, there was some progress made in other areas of cancer pain control policy and cigarette tax rates.

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Already, Kentucky was listed as doing well in the areas of access to Medicaid, access to palliative care and Medicaid coverage of tobacco cessation.

“Kentucky still has a long way to go when it comes to preventing cancer. Unfortunately, Kentucky is No. 1 in incidence and mortalities from cancer,” the press release states.

According to data from the American Cancer Society, Kentuckians are dying at high rates from lunch and bronchus cancers compared to other cancers.

There have been an estimated more than 26,000 new cases of cancer diagnosed in Kentucky in so far in 2019. Of those cases, most are lung or bronchus cancers (4,960) followed by female breast cancer (3,670), colorectal cancer (2,320), prostate cancer (2,190), melanoma skin cancer (1,310) and kidney and renal pelvis cancers (1,220).

Already this year, approximately 10,500 people have died from cancer, most of those being attributed to lung and bronchus cancers (3,290). The number of death related to lung and bronchus cancers are significantly higher than other cancers; the next highest number of deaths were attributed to colorectal cancers (820).

While the incidence rates of breast cancer (125) and prostate cancer (108.8) were higher than lung and bronchus cancers (93.5) from 2011-15, the death rates for lung and bronchus cancers were significantly higher (66.1) from 2012-16 compared to breast cancer (21.6) and prostate cancer (19.9).

Although Kentuckians die at high rates from lung and bronchus cancers, rates of smoking, including among teens, remain higher than the national average in the state.

The American Cancer Society reported about 25 percent of adults reported being current smokers in 2017 compared to the 17 percent national average and 14 percent of high schoolers reported being current smokers compared to the nation’s 9 percent average. Kentucky ranked second highest in the country for both rates of adult and high schoolers as current smokers.

Additionally, Kentucky’s cigarette excise tax of $1.10 in 2018 was lower than the national average of $1.79.

Kentucky legislators have the opportunity to work with advocates and research groups to implement policies that help in the fight against cancer.

Some steps to take include:

— Implementing stronger smoke-free laws. Each year in the United States, secondhand smoke causes nearly 42,000 deaths among nonsmokers, including up to 7,300 lung cancer deaths. It can also cause or exacerbate a wide range of other health issues, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, respiratory infections and asthma. According to the report, as of July 1, 27 states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the District of Columbia and more than 1,050 municipalities across the country have laws in effect that require 100 percent smoke-free workplaces, including restaurants and bars. Kentucky is not one of those states. The only way to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke is to make all public places, including all workplaces, restaurants, bars and gaming facilities, smoke-free.

— Increase funding for tobacco prevention. Kentucky falls at less than 25 percent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended funding level for tobacco prevention, according to the report. The 2014 U.S. Surgeon General’s report on tobacco concluded comprehensive statewide and community tobacco prevention and cessation programs reduce tobacco use by keeping young people from becoming addicted and helping individuals who use tobacco to quit.

— Implement stricter laws regarding indoor tanning devices. Laws that prohibit the use of indoor tanning devices for individuals under the age of 18 are effective in deterring minors from using tanning devices and can help to reduce skin cancer incidence and mortality rates across the country.

These are easy, logical steps to take that can save many lives.