Blueprint unveiled to cut Maine cancers


AUGUSTA (AP) – Every day, 22 Mainers are diagnosed with cancer, and nine people in the state die from the disease. All forms of cancer are expected to claim more than 3,000 Mainers’ lives this year.

A prescription for reducing those grim statistics was released Thursday by a consortium of 130 hospitals, survivors, state health and volunteer agencies. The Maine Cancer Consortium’s Five-Year Plan emphasizes prevention, early detection and, if cancer strikes, proper care.

Among its recommendations are more screening for colorectal, breast and other cancers, increasing primary care doctors’ awareness of the benefits of early detection, more awareness of the dangers of sun exposure, and more emphasis on exercise, controlling weight, reducing tobacco use and other healthy practices.

The American Cancer Society’s Kip DeSerres, chairman of the Maine Cancer Consortium, said that implementing the report’s recommendations “can make significant impacts on the prevention and early detection of cancer” while improving the quality of life for those with the disease.

An initial five-year plan was presented in 2001. The cancer consortium said more than two-thirds of the strategies advanced in that version were achieved.

Still, cancer still takes its toll in lives and resources. Its cost in lost productivity and medical costs is $700 million per year in Maine.

Maine currently has the highest cancer mortality rate in New England, and a higher cancer death rate – 214 deaths per 100,000 people – than the national figure of 192 per 100,000. The four leading cancer diagnoses in Maine are lung, breast, prostate and colorectal, which together account for more than half of the cancer diagnoses in Maine.

“We don’t fully know” why Maine’s rate is higher, said Dora Anne Mills, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

While Maine’s cancer rates remain high by comparison to the region and nation, the state’s overall cancer rate has been declining, Mills said. More than half of all cancers can be prevented and there’s an increased chance of survival if cancers are detected early.

Annual mammograms can reduce the risk of dying of breast cancer by 20-25 percent over 10 years for women ages 40 and older, according to the cancer consortium’s figures.