South Carolinians are doing a poor job fighting cancer and only have themselves to blame, says the state’s Cancer Alliance director.
A poor job, says alliance Executive Director Steve Lovelace, because residents are making lifestyle choices that can led to cancer – they eat too much, exercise too little and smoke tobacco. Between 50 to 75 percent of cancer deaths are caused by these factors, according to research.
And in many cases, residents are waiting too long to be screened for cancers that are often treatable with early detection, says Loveless.
South Carolina ranks 18th nationally in the rate of cancer deaths and 45th nationally in incidents of cancer. Annually about 22,000 S.C. residents are diagnosed with cancer and 9,100 die from it.
The state also ranked 12th nationally for rate of of adults smoking, seventh for least physically active adults and sixth for obese residents.
“We’re not doing good enough,” Lovelace said. The data and the Alliance’s own cancer report, “reflect a poor grade,” he said.
York, Chester and Lancaster counties rank high in incidents and deaths because of lung and colon/rectal cancers.
Chester ranks No. 1 out of 46 counties in the rate of deaths from lung cancer, according to statistics compiled by the state’s Central Cancer Registry run by the Department of Health and Environmental Control. Chester also ranks second in rate of lung cancer cases. Chester ranks fifth in the rate of colon/rectal cancer cases.
Lancaster ranked 10th and York County ranked 13th in lung cancer mortality.
The registry recently reviewed Chester County cancer trends from 1996 to 2009.
The good news was overall cancer incidence and mortality rates dropped in the county. But the lung cancer incidence rate increased 14.6 percent while the mortality rate increased 10.5 percent. Statewide, both rates have dropped.
The report also found that the breast cancer incidence rate dropped 5.2 percent while the mortality rate rose 7.7 percent.
The study also looked at cancer occurrences geographically, but did not find any clusters in the county.
Linda Wylie of Chester is one of those numbers. She is a 19-year survivor of breast cancer. Statistics don’t interest her. When you received the word you have cancer, “statistics happen to someone else,” she said. A mobile mammogram unit, she said, saved her life.
When Wylie, 65, was diagnosed with breast cancer, not many people openly talked about. It was a stigma and people couldn’t even say “cancer,” she said. They referred to it as “the big C.”
Wylie, however, openly talked about her cancer and sought the support of friends. She has remained active in the flight against cancer as a volunteer with the American Cancer Society and Chester Relay for Life activities.
“We’re not doing well in the fight” against cancer, she said. “It’s not available to everyone, especially those who don’t have insurance. It’s a long process and costly to manage.”
Transportation can often be a barrier to treatment, but there are options such as the America Cancer Society’s “Road to Recovery” program where volunteers provide rides, as well as aerial mercy flights.
Although Lovelace with the Cancer Alliance and Wylie are glum about the state of cancer in South Carolina, they have an optimistic prognosis.
“In the age of everyone wanting an instant pill to solve problems, the data shows that we control the aspect of prevention and early detection,” Loveless said.
In addition to lifestyle changes, the state Cancer Alliance is advocating for more education, especially among children as well as adults leading by example, Lovelace said.
“You don’t need to change your whole week, but little things do add up,” he said.
Wylie is putting her emphasis on helping others. “It’s important to talk about it,” she said. She and other cancer survivors have said it takes a team to defeat cancer.
Part of that team happens at the annual Relay for Life fundraisers sponsored by the American Cancer Society, she said. Cancer survivors and others walk to raise funds. The first lap is usually done by cancer survivors.
“That takes my breath away and it strengthens my spirit,” Wylie said.
It’s also about attitude and outlook, she said. Unlike some other diseases, improvements are being made in cancer treatments.
“The word with cancer is hope,” Wylie said. “There is alway hope. There is always something new on the horizon.”
Don Worthington 803-329-4066