Published October 22, 2001
Although cancer deaths in Rhode Island are among the highest in the nation, we ultimately do have control to reduce the incidence of this devastating disease, say state health experts.
According to John Fulton, associate director of the Rhode Island’s Department of Health, cancer-related deaths last year in the Ocean State topped 2,500. With its urban setting, Rhode Island’s listing as one of the top 10 states for cancer death was not a surprising to Fulton. In an urban setting, he says a person’s lifestyle might include an unbalanced diet, little physical exercise, use of tobacco and a heavier use of alcohol, all contributing factors to the state having the higher incidence of cancer.
Seniors can take more control of their health and well-being to reduce the probability of being afflicted with cancer. By just avoiding many of the high-risk factors for cancer and by living a healthier lifestyle, or through early detection by screening and treatment, Rhode Islanders of all ages can stave off or successfully survive cancer’s devastating effects, says Fulton.
He recommends all older persons schedule a check up every year with their primary care physician. Balanced diets are important, too, he says especially with meals including large portions of fresh fruits and vegetables. Don’t forget regular physical activity, such as walking for at least 20 to 30 minutes. At annual checkups, always ask your physician if it’s time for your mammogram, pap test, or sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. Finally, do not use any type of tobacco because it causes at least four out of 10 cancers in Rhode Island.
Being diagnosed with cancer does not always translate into a death sentence, says Dr. Arvin S. Glicksman, who serves as the executive director of the Rhode Island Cancer Council. The private nonprofit group, funded by the Rhode Island General Assembly, serves as an information and referral source for those needing cancer-related information, along with providing educational programming to the public and health care professionals.
“Breast cancer incidence is much higher for women age 65 and over than for younger women,” he states. “While 80 percent of women of all ages get mammograms, less than 50 percent of those age 65 and over have regular mammograms.”
“When detected earl breast cancer is over 90 percent curable,” Glicksman says. But somehow older woman do not avail themselves of this important test, even with Medicare paying for the annual mammograms in women age 65 and over and with 45 mammography centers located throughout the state, he adds.
According to Dr. Glicksman, colorectal cancer kills more men and women in Rhode Island than either breast cancer or prostate cancer. Again, preventative screening is important because even if early cancer has already developed , it is 90 percent curable too, if caught early,” he adds.
“With testing we do for cervix cancer and colon rectum cancer we can actually detect the problems before the cells become cancerous,” Dr. Glicksman says. “In these cancers we are actually preventing the cancer before it even starts by removing precancerous lesions.”
Meanwhile, only a few of the 39 municipalities in Rhode Island have created Cancer Task Forces to bring cancer-related educational, screening programs and activities to their residents.
“The City of Pawtucket has the most well-developed program,” Glicksman says. Recognizing the important of early preventative screenings, he notes that the city allowed all full-time employees up to four hours of paid time away from work for one preventative cancer screening appointment performed by a licensed physician. Those requiring additional time for cancer screenings are allowed to use their sick time for this purpose.
No miraculous wonder drugs or startling medical techniques are necessary to combat cancer, Dr. Glicksman states. The cancer care rate can rise to more than 75 percent by using the medical techniques, treatments and medications now available, combined with early prevention screenings and lifestyle changes.
Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. The article was published in the October 22, 2001 issue of the Pawtucket Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.