UK Markey Cancer Center named national cancer center for 5 more years; director pledges to halve Ky.’s cancer rate in 10

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Kentucky leads the nation in the percentage of residents who get cancer and those who die from it, and the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center is pledging to cut those rates in half in the next five to 10 years.

“This goal for reducing cancer rates in our state will not be easy, but big, bold goals are what Kentucky needs,” Mark Evers, director of the center, said at an Aug. 10 news conference at the UK Chandler Hospital.

The numbers are grim. An estimated 26,000 Kentuckians are newly diagnosed with cancer each year, and about 11,000 of them will die from it, according to the American Cancer Society.

There are bright spots. “In the past five years, Kentucky’s colon cancer rate has gone from first in the country to fifth, and lung cancer rates appear to be going down.” Linda Blackford reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. “There’s still a long way to go, but Evers says he’s optimistic.”

“If we can move the needle so we’re no longer number one, that would be huge for Kentucky,” Evers told Blackford. “That would be a sea change for Kentucky. It’s all about changing the culture.”

Kentucky has a strong tobacco heritage, and a new report from the American Cancer Society says the state is doing poorly when it comes to policies to fight cancer, especially those related to tobacco. The report says Kentucky is “falling short” in the areas of smoke-free laws, tobacco-prevention funding, and indoor tanning device restrictions; and offers “no funding” for breast and cervical cancer early detection.

“The fact is most of Kentucky’s biggest cancer killers, lung, colon and cervical cancers, are largely preventable,” he said.

Asked if it would be possible to meet the goal of cutting cancer rates in half without cutting the state’s smoking rates, Evers said that while smoking cessation is a “huge priority,” he added that prevention “runs the whole gamut” and must also include efforts to decease colon and cervical cancers.

Smoking causes about one-third of all cancers in Kentucky and Kentucky has the second highest smoking rate in the nation, 24.5 percent.

The news conference was held to announce that the Markey center has won its second five-year designation as a National Cancer Institute center, one of just 70 in the nation and the only one in Kentucky.

The NCI renewal includes a grant of nearly $11 million for research, recruitment, screening, education and clinical trials.

Evers said that since the center’s first designation in 2013, the center’s affiliate network has grown from eight sites to 20, and that now nearly 60 percent of the state’s new cancer cases are either directly or indirectly treated by the center. This increase allows Kentuckians to be treated closer to their homes.

Among a long list of accomplishments, a center fact sheet says NCI research funding has increased 24 percent in the past year and that one-third of Markey’s research projects focus on cancer disparities in the Appalachian region of the state, where cancer rates are often the highest.

Evers said that while most of the NCI funding will be used to support “translational clinical research,” there is also money allotted to work on significant preventive measures around smoking cessation, colon cancer screenings and human papillomavirus vaccinations, which is known to cause cervical cancer.

“Kentuckians have suffered far too much from the enormous burden of cancer,” Evers said. “We at Markey are determined to conquer cancer in the Commonwealth.”