Guest Opinions

Hey Idaho, let’s make cancer prevention a priority in 2017

Luke Cavener
Luke Cavener

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) wants to make it easier for Idahoans to set and achieve healthy New Year’s resolutions that can help prevent cancer. Lawmakers will be critical to our success by shaping an environment that supports healthy living and provides access to healthy choices.

Last year, roughly 8,120 Idaho residents were diagnosed with cancer and about 2,800 died from it. Yet, by living an active lifestyle, eating healthy, not using tobacco products and getting recommended screenings, we can prevent nearly half of all cancer deaths. That’s why ACS CAN urges the Idaho Legislature to make a resolution in 2017 to prioritize cancer prevention.

One of the easiest ways to help prevent cancer is through tobacco prevention — an area where Idaho routinely falls behind. Tobacco use remains the number one cause of preventable death, killing 1,800 Idahoans yearly and causing nearly 27 percent of all cancer deaths in Idaho. We must invest in strong tobacco control programs to save lives.

Idaho spends only $2.9 million annually on tobacco prevention and education — just 18.4 percent of what the CDC recommends. Meanwhile, Big Tobacco invests nearly $45 million in Idaho annually to market their deadly products and hook future generations. It’s no wonder Idahoans looking to quit tobacco for good face an uphill battle.

Fully-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs are just one piece of the puzzle. Idaho must also increase the price of all tobacco products through regular, significant tobacco tax increases, and improve the statewide smoke-free law to protect all Idahoans from secondhand smoke. Evidence shows tackling tobacco through this “three-legged stool approach” decreases the number of tobacco users and saves lives from premature tobacco-related death.

Our lawmakers can also fight cancer by ensuring Idahoans know the importance of lifesaving cancer screenings and have proper access to them. Our screening rates are dismal. Idaho ranks 51st for cervical cancer screenings, 50th for breast cancer screenings and 44th for colorectal cancer screenings. Yet, these three cancers are some of the most preventable and treatable if caught early.

If breast cancer is detected early, the five-year survival rate is 99 percent, but when it’s diagnosed later due to lack of earlier detection, the survival rate drops to 25 percent. Cervical cancer, on the other hand, can be completely prevented by removing precancerous lesions during routine screenings. However, only 16 percent of women will survive a late-stage cervical cancer diagnosis. And colorectal cancer can also be prevented by removing polyps found during routine colonoscopies. Despite this fact, colorectal cancer remains the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined.

It’s time for the Gem State to take action to save lives from cancer. As an Idahoan, you can commit to schedule a cancer screening or call the Idaho Quit Line. And, as a lawmaker, make sure that fighting cancer is top of mind.

Luke Cavener is the Idaho Director of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACSCAN). He lives in Meridian with his wife and two children.