Colon cancer targeted

September 21, 2000

Colon cancer targeted


Washington County health officials likely will concentrate on preventing and treating colon, rectal and melanoma skin cancers as part of a statewide cancer-fighting program.


The county's colorectal cancer rate for 1997, the most recent year for which statistics are available, was 50.6 incidents per 100,000 people. The Maryland rate was 48.6 per 100,000 and the U.S. rate was 43.9 per 100,000.

The county's melanoma or skin cancer rate was 25 per 100,000; almost twice the state rate of 14.4 per 100,000 and the national rate of and 14.3.

Washington County Health Officer Dr. Robert L. Parker said the mortality rate for colorectal cancer can be reduced through education and treatment programs. Some lifestyle and diet changes would be necessary to cut the incident rates for both cancers, he said.


A group of Washington County health officials and community leaders have been meeting since July to develop a program on which to spend the county's allocation of the federal tobacco settlement.

Maryland is expected to receive $4 billion over the next 25 years. Gov. Paris N. Glendening has developed a 10-year plan to return some of the funds to local health departments for education, prevention and screening and treatment programs.

Washington County is slated to receive its share of the settlement, $428,857, in fiscal 2001, according to the governor's office.

Overall, the state will disburse $15.7 million to 24 local governments.

Maryland's cancer incident rate was 433.1 per 100,000 in 1997, higher than the U.S. rate of 395. The Washington County incident rate was 397.8 per 100,000.

Maryland's cancer mortality rate was 174.9 per 100,000, the eighth highest among the states and the District of Columbia. The U.S. rate was 163.7 and Washington County was just slightly higher at 168.5.

Parker said Washington County is considering a screening and treatment program that would be open to low-income people and those who are uninsured or underinsured. The financial criteria has not been established, he said.

The target group for the screenings would be males age 50 and over. Parker said they should have a colorectal exam every year.

Parker said there likely will be an effort to educate local doctors, as well as patients, about the need for colorectal exams. He estimated only one in three patients currently has regular colorectal exams.

"The exams may be overlooked in busy practices and the hesitancy of the patients. It's not the most appealing thing to do," he said.

Parker noted that over the years, community health efforts have reduced the statistics for female breast and cervical cancer. Washington County's breast cancer incident rate was 91.3 in 1997, below the state rate of 124.5 and the U.S. rate of 115.4.

"We want to do the same with colon cancer," he said.

Lifestyle changes may be encouraged in an effort to cut the colorectal cancer incident rate.

According to the state study, diets high in total fat, protein, calories, alcohol and red meat increase the incident rate of colorectal cancer.

Parker said education is the key, particularly among young people, to reducing melanoma or skin cancer rates.

Reducing exposure to ultraviolet radiation will reduce incidents of nonmelanoma skin cancer, according to the Baseline Cancer Survey. The survey suggests using sun screen with an SPF of 15 or higher and avoiding artificial sources of ultraviolet light such as tanning booths.

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