An estimated 19,830 Oklahomans will be diagnosed with cancer and about 7,980 are expected to die from the disease in 2014, according to a recent American Cancer Society report.
Specifically, the American Cancer Society estimates that among the Oklahomans diagnosed, 3,320 will have lung cancers; 2,570 will have prostate cancers; 2,700 will have breast cancers; and 1,760 will have colon cancers.
An estimated 690 Oklahomans are expected to die from colon cancer, 510 people from breast cancer and 370 people from prostate cancer, according to the report.
“Two decades of steady declines in cancer death rates mean a person living in the U.S. today has about a 20 percent lower risk of dying from cancer than they did in 1990,” said John R. Seffrin, chief executive officer for the American Cancer Society, in a news release. “But there is much more to be done. All cancers caused by cigarette smoking could be prevented. Up to one-third of the cancer cases that occur in the U.S. are related to overweight or obesity, physical inactivity, and/or poor nutrition. We need to institute policies and public health programs that promote wellness and save lives.”
Cancer begins when cells in a part of the body start to grow out of control, according to the organization.
In Oklahoma, all forms of cancer combined are the second leading cause of death, according to the state Health Department. Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among females, and colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death among both males and females, according to the agency.
Lack of access
Tia Yancey has worked in breast and cervical cancer screening programs at the Health Department for the past 14 years.
She helps administer Oklahoma Cares, a partnership of the Health Department and other state agencies and American Indian tribes.
The program helps provide treatment for breast and cervical cancer and precancerous conditions to uninsured and low-income women in Oklahoma.
One of the key issues that Yancey has noticed is a lack of access to mammograms and other types of cancer screenings, either because a resident doesn't have transportation to a clinic or because there isn't a clinic where they live where they could be screened.
Time constraints and fear
Another issue is that many residents work full-time during the day, often the same time period when clinics are open, Yancey said. And sometimes, people don't go to the doctor out of fear.
“I was talking to a lady just yesterday,” Yancey said. “She has found a lump, but she's scared to go because, ‘What if it is cancer?' Fear is a big factor of it, and I know fear can be debilitating and keep us from going to get the services we need.”
Data from the Health Department shows that 30 percent of breast cancers in Oklahoma women were diagnosed at late stage.
Many factors combine
Dr. Robert Mannel, the director of the Peggy and Charles Stephenson Cancer Center at the University of Oklahoma, said many Oklahomans, beyond those who have breast cancer, are diagnosed at later stages of the disease, especially when compared to the rest of the nation.
One of the reasons is because of a lack of screening performed in Oklahoma, including mammograms and colonoscopies, Mannel said.
“Screening is a challenge for our state because we have a large rural population, and we also have a very large uninsured population, and relatively speaking, we have a relatively low income level for the state,” Mannel said. “Those factors combine to impact the ability of people to do screening programs.”