As reported by The Day, February 23, 2006.

Gov. Rell Launches Cancer Initiative

Plan Includes More Screening, Prevention

By Judy Benson

Connecticut's cancer rates are among the highest in the nation, but a new statewide plan released Wednesday aims to help the state shed that dubious distinction.

“Connecticut ranks eighth in the nation in new cancers each year,” Gov. M. Jodi Rell said during a Capitol news conference Wednesday announcing the initiative. “About 20,000 people will die from cancer this year, making it our second-leading cause of death, after heart disease. But half of all cancers are preventable or can be delayed by changing behaviors.”

Rell, herself a breast cancer survivor, led the announcement of The Connecticut Comprehensive Cancer Control Plan 2005-2008, the next step in an effort that began five years ago with the formation of the Connecticut Cancer Partnership. The partnership brings together more than 200 health care professionals from hospitals, universities, private-practice doctors and other health organizations to work together to find ways to reduce cancer in Connecticut through better prevention, early detection and treatment. Among those in the partnership are several representatives of Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London and The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich.

“We look forward to becoming one of the lead states” in successfully battling cancer, said Dr. J. Robert Galvin, commission of the state Department of Public Health.

One of the leaders of the partnership, Dr. Carolyn Runowicz of the University of Connecticut Health Center and president of the American Cancer Society, said the possibilities for preventing cancer have never been greater. As one example, she noted that a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer may soon become available.

Much of the plan involves focusing efforts to go after “the low-hanging fruit,” said Dr. Richard Edelson, director of the Yale Cancer Center at the Yale University School of Medicine. That entails increasing the numbers of people who take part in well-known, effective screening and prevention measures.

“Half of all individuals over 50 can be screened for colorectal cancer and have not been,” he said. “Twenty-five percent of women who could be screened for cervical cancer with a pap smear are not being screened.”

Other steps would include a statewide smoking cessation program for Medicaid recipients and those without health insurance, improving data collection and targeting higher rates of cancer among minority groups with focused prevention messages and screening programs.

In Connecticut, breast, prostate, lung and colorectal cancer are the most common types, accounting for about half of all cancer cases.

Dr. Andrew Salner, chairman of the Connecticut Cancer Partnership and the Connecticut State Medical Society, said working to eliminate disparities in access to health care for minorities is another of the plan's goals. He noted that African American men have prostate cancer rates that are 50 percent higher than those of white men, and are twice as likely to die from it. To reach black males about the importance of prostate cancer screening, the partnership is sponsoring an information campaign of public service messages that will be displayed in barber shops in the state's three most populous cities, Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport.

“Together we can lower the impact of this disease and the toll it takes on families in Connecticut,” Salner said.