Originally created 01/15/04

Cancer society pushes for better education



ATLANTA - Nearly two out of three cancer deaths this year could have been prevented, and more needs to be done with education, screening and access to care efforts such as the Georgia Cancer Coalition, the head of the American Cancer Society said Wednesday.

"Cancer today is potentially the most preventable and most curable of the major life-threatening diseases," said CEO John Seffrin.

The new head of the Georgia coalition said there needs to be a reassessment of the $1 billion initiative's ambitious goals and, in light of current budget woes, far-ranging regional plans such as the proposed Athens-Augusta network need to be more realistic.

Obesity and lack of exercise have now caught up with tobacco as the leading causes of preventable cancer deaths, Dr. Seffrin said. The fact that they are also contributors to other leading causes of death - heart disease, stroke and diabetes - means getting people to avoid those health risks could have a tremendous impact on society.

"The moral imperative has never been greater, because we know if we do, lives will be saved," Dr. Seffrin said. "And if we don't, lives will be lost needlessly."

Making it a priority, making it public policy, as Georgia has done with the cancer initiative, is the way to go about saving those lives, Dr. Seffrin said.

"We can have a population-based impact," he said. "It's a success story waiting to happen."

William Todd, who took over as coalition president a little more than a week ago, said it is time to look at adjustments, such as encouraging more private and federal investment in the initiative

The tobacco settlement funds, however, have not been snatched away to fill budget holes, he said. Prior to Gov. Sonny Perdue's budget message Wednesday, he said, "We expect to be in there in a healthy way."

Still, the role of the regional programs will be reassessed in light of new realities, said coalition official Nancy Paris, who had been serving as interim president.

"When we started that process, we didn't anticipate some of the economic and political challenges that would be present in our environment today," she said. "Quite frankly, some of what we asked people to prepare we're just not going to be able to fund. Our challenge will be to work with them to raise the money to implement the cancer-related programs that are the most important and the most promising and the most attractive to outside investors."

"The governor was very concerned, and rightly so, that a set of unrealistic expectations had been somehow allowed to be created," Mr. Todd said. "So we've got to manage those unrealistic expectations."

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.