The Cancer Coalition of South Georgia Fights Cancer Here at Home
Thursday, March 21st, 2013
Cancer is at home in South Georgia. In many counties in the region, the incidence rate of cancer is higher than both the state average and the U.S. average. Calhoun County has the highest rate of prostate cancer in the country and Terrell County is third highest among Georgia’s 159 counties for deaths from colorectal cancer.
The Cancer Coalition of South Georgia is the only local collaborative cancer organization focused on preventing cancer and increasing survival among the people of South Georgia. Founded in 2002, the Cancer Coalition brings funding, expertise and opportunities to fight cancer in 32 counties in the region. Its programs range from cancer screening programs to educational outreach to promoting healthy lifestyles.
"All our programs and research projects, and every cent of our funding, are focused in our 32 counties in South Georgia," said Coalition CEO Diane Fletcher.
"We greatly appreciate that some local businesses contribute financial support to the Coalition. They sometimes designate that their funds be applied to the specific counties in our service area where their employees live. It's a way for them to help promote a healthy and productive workforce."
Other local businesses have "adopted" the Coalition as their charitable cause for a certain month or quarter. Last October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Toyota of Albany donated $100 to the Coalition for every new car sold during the month. Capitol City Bank & Trust Company invited the Coalition to provide an information table about breast cancer in their lobby in October and asked bank customers if they would like to make a donation to the Coalition. The Valdosta business community is assisting the Coalition with a major golf tournament planned for next year at Kinderlou golf course. Other businesses donate specific items to support the Coalition's needs.
An Innovative, Coordinated Approach to Cancer Screening
In 2006, the Coalition launched its Community Cancer Screening Program™ in partnership with local community health centers, hospitals, doctors and public health departments. Program participants are paired with a program Navigator who guides them through the screening process.
"Our Navigators help patients through the maze of the health care system. They average eight contacts with each patient. Physicians love it because our patients have a 98 percent show rate for appointments and they are informed and prepared for the screening tests," Fletcher said.
The Screening Program is currently conducted at 12 different primary care sites and two different hospital systems within the Coalition's service area, reaching patients from 26 counties. In the organization's fiscal year 2012, it facilitated 685 screenings for breast, cervical, colorectal and prostate cancers. The screenings found 311 abnormalities, including pre-cancers, and one cancer.
"One cancer may not sound like much, but finding pre-cancerous abnormalities is vitally important. Treating pre-cancers can prevent advanced cancers in the future that often lead to critical situations with emergency room visits," Fletcher said.
In addition to its screening program, the Coalition teaches South Georgians about living healthier lives to lower their risk of getting cancer.
"Lifestyle choices are a major reason why South Georgia has a greater incidence of cancer. We have higher than average smoking rates that are still trending up and a very high obesity rate," Fletcher said.
The Coalition has educational outreach programs to help residents make better choices. For example, it has worked with youth and local community leaders to achieve tobacco-free schools and other areas in Miller County, which has a high incidence of lung cancer.
"We take an evidence-based approach to all our programs. We look at the baseline incidence rates and survival rates and monitor our impact with the knowledge that it can sometimes take a generation for the impact of our programs to show in cancer rates. But we also know that every day we are improving health and saving lives for individuals in South Georgia," Fletcher said.