FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear announced a public-private collaboration Tuesday to help tackle Kentucky's problem with high rates of cancer.
At a Capitol news conference, Beshear said the newly formed Kentucky Cancer Foundation will partner with the state in an effort to reduce the rate of lung, breast, cervical and colon cancers.
"Despite Kentucky's current budget constraints, my administration is recommending several critical investments designed to tackle generational problems that plague our state," Beshear said. "One of these investments is to provide colon cancer screenings for our uninsured Kentuckians."
Beshear has recommended in his two-year state budget proposal to spend $1 million on colon cancer screenings for 4,000 Kentuckians.
The foundation would match the $1 million state pledge, for a total of $2 million to be spent over the next two years by the Kentucky Colon Cancer Screening Program.
Beshear said there are more than 24,000 new cases of cancer in Kentucky each year, and more than 9,500 Kentuckians die each year from cancer.
Kentucky is No. 1 for lung cancer incidence and mortality in the nation. The incidence rate is 49 percent higher than the national average, and the mortality rate is 47 percent higher than the rest of the nation.
Kentucky's incidence of colon cancer is the second highest in the nation and more than 20 percent higher than the national average. Kentucky also has the third-highest colon cancer and rectal cancer death rate in the United States.
"This is a real problem in our state that is affecting the lives of every family. As a cancer survivor, I know firsthand that screenings and an early diagnosis will help save our citizens from this horrible disease," said Beshear, who had prostate cancer in 1994.
The foundation will raise money from private donations and pursue grants to pay for prevention and early-detection services — mammograms, pap smears, smoking cessation programs and colon cancer screenings — for residents who can't pay for them. The board of the foundation will help raise money for these additional screenings.
"Kentucky is known as the nation's No. 1 cancer state," said Dr. Whitney Jones, a co-founder of the foundation. "Having adequate funding for these needed screenings is the missing link between the uninsured and cancer prevention/early detection. That's why the mission of the foundation is so important to the future of Kentucky."
The 4,000 screenings proposed by Beshear are part of the Kentucky Colon Cancer Screening Program that was created by the state legislature in 2008 but was never funded.
Beshear is to join foundation members, health advocates and cancer survivors at a colon cancer awareness rally at 1 p.m. Thursday on the steps of the state Capitol.