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The good and bad news about cancer in Arizona

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Despite its low cancer rate, Arizona was ranked 32nd in the nation in the quality of overall healthcare

By Phil Riske | Senior Reporter/Writer

You are unusual if you haven’t been touched by cancer.

This year about 564,800 Americans are expected to die of cancer —more than 1,500 people a day. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in America, exceeded only by heart disease. One of every four deaths in the country is from cancer. Since 1990, there have been approximately 5 million cancer deaths.

Worldwide, more than seven million die every year, out of which, four million people die prematurely (aged 30 to 69 years).

Over the past five years, eight people in my circle of life, including my wife, were diagnosed with cancer. Five have died, two are still fighting it, and my wife has been declared cancer-free after aggressive treatment for lung cancer.

Recent* findings by the respected research firm Wallet Hub (Best & Worst States for Health Care) caught my attention by reporting Arizona has the third lowest cancer rate in the nation behind New Mexico and Nevada. That’s comparatively good news, especially with the state’s high rate for skin cancers.

Part of the reason for low cancer rates is Arizona is among the top 10 states where tobacco use has declined significantly over the years (use down to 14% in 2016).

Wallet Hub also found Scottsdale to be the “fittest” city in the country for physical health as overall good fitness leads to prevention of cancer.

A major reason why Arizona’s cancer rates are lower relates to our larger Hispanic and Native American populations that have relatively low rates of the common cancers.

Sadly, because of the acculturation of these populations to the Western lifestyle (i.e. high fat, low fruit and vegetables diet, together with low levels of leisure time physical activity), Arizona’s cancer rates will begin to rise dramatically into the mid-21st century.

While Arizona’s overall rates of cancer may be lower than in other states, according to the Arizona Cancer Registry, more people in Arizona are diagnosed with cancer at later stages.

Breaking down the numbers

Arizona has slipped two notches from its lowest rate of cancers among men and the second lowest rate of cancers among women, reported the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Several findings*, according to research by Rose Law Group Reporter, are cited as factors in the state’s low cancer rate, and they are not good news.

People are foregoing their screenings and cancers are going undetected.

“It could be that people are living with issues they don’t know they have, so we really don’t want to take our foot off the accelerator,” Wayne Tormala of the state health department told the Arizona Daily Star.

Low screening rates can exacerbated by unemployment figures; job loss is insurance loss.

With calls to reduce Medicaid budget, there is concern eliminated coverage for annual checkups, will further serve as a disincentive for screenings.

According to statistics 60% of women didn’t get their recommended annual mammograms, starting at age 40. Half of all breast cancers are caught early, but the other half are coming in at a later stage. In 2011, Arizona officials predicted more than 1,000 would die because their cancer was found too late.

According to the most recent available data, 44 percent of men did not get a prostate exam, generally starting at age 45. Another 42 percent of adults over 50 did not get their recommended at least once-a-decade colonoscopy.

The Cancer Moonshot to accelerate cancer research aims to make more therapies available to more patients, while also improving our ability to prevent cancer and detect it at an early stage.

Skin cancer

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in Arizona and the United States. It is estimated that more than 3.5 million new cases are diagnosed each year — more than all other cancers combined. One in five Americans will get skin cancer in their lifetimes.

Sunburns are a significant risk factor for the development of skin cancer.

A survey found 42% of white adults in Arizona had at least one sunburn in the past year—an increase from 26%.

Melanoma is responsible for about 75% of all skin cancer deaths. The rate of new melanoma diagnoses is nearly 75% higher among men than women in Arizona. Coconino County has the highest rate of new melanoma diagnoses in the state — 54% higher than the state average.

About 170 people in Arizona die of melanoma every year. Since 1975, the melanoma death rate in Arizona has risen by an average of about 1% per year among residents over the age of 50.

Gila County has the highest melanoma death rate in the state — 70% higher than the national average.

Despite its low cancer rate, Arizona was ranked 32nd in the nation in the quality of overall healthcare

*Cancer statistical reporting can take several years to compile, so findings are according to most recent information available.


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