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We don't want to be No. 1 in lung cancer deaths

Stacy Richey admits she hasn't been a "political animal," but a couple of bills in the U.S. House and Senate have changed that.

Richey, nurse coordinator for the Surgical Lung Cancer Program at the University of Kentucky's Markey Cancer Center, wants all of us to write letters to Sens. Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning, and to our representatives urging them to get behind the Lung Cancer Mortality Reduction Act of 2009.

Among all cancers, Richey said, lung cancer is the biggest killer. "I don't think we can ignore it anymore," she said.

The Lung Cancer Mortality Reduction Act of 2009 would establish a comprehensive program to make combatting lung cancer a national public priority. The ultimate goal would be coordinating more than a dozen agencies in an effort to decrease lung cancer deaths by 25 percent.

If passed, it would provide more money for research, the development of diagnostic tools and innovative treatment. It also would promote better management of the disease that would focus on populations with high rates of lung cancer and death from the disease.

In other words, some of that research would target us in Kentucky, who rate first in the nation with it comes to lung cancer.

That's why Richey wanted me stir the pot a little and help get HR2112 and S332 moving.

Of all the sponsors for the two bills — and there are many from both parties — none is from Kentucky.

There is something very wrong with that.

I called the offices of McConnell, Bunning and Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles. McConnell and Chandler staff members said they will review bills when they leave committee. Bunning's staff didn't get back to me.

At least we know they are aware of the bill.

Our representatives should put this one on the front burner.

Mind you, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in all ethnic groups throughout the nation, according to the Lung Cancer Alliance. More people die of lung cancer than from breast, prostate, colorectal and pancreatic cancers combined.

But the percentage of lung cancer cases in Kentucky is about 52 percent higher than any other state.

Richey e-mailed me about the pending legislation because she has been my nurse at Markey for five years, through two incidents of lung cancer.

In that position at Markey, she has seen how that disease can ravage a family. And, frankly, she's tired of it.

She said the survival rate for lung cancer hasn't moved much since the National Cancer Act of 1971. But, according to Cancer Alliance, other cancer survival rates have improved. The five-year rate of survival for breast cancer is now at 88 percent. Prostate survival has reached 99 percent and colon cancer is at 64 percent.

Lung cancer survival is still only about 16 percent.

Because smoking is a major cause of lung cancer, some people blame the victims.

"That really bugs me," Richey said. "These people are good people. How many of us are perfect? No one deserves lung cancer."

Besides, there are other causes as well, including radon, asbestos, the environment, aging and heredity.

Although research for a good screening test is ongoing at Markey, there is not a definitive one for lung cancer yet.

"If it is caught early, the prognosis is a lot different in Stage One than Stage Three or Four," she said. "It is about 60 percent."

"It was because of the surveillance you were getting that your second one was caught early," Richey told me.

Believe me, I'm quite thankful. It's been three years since my last cancer sighting.

So Richey asked me to ask you to light a fire under your elected officials. A simple way to do that is by visiting the Lung Cancer Alliance Web site at www.lungcanceralliance.org. Then click on "take action," "advocacy", and finally "contact Congress."

You can fill in the blanks and add your own story and the note will be sent from the Web site.

Or you can always write letters directly to your senators and representative or give them a call.

Tell them that you don't want this state to be No. 1 in lung cancer deaths and that you want them to do something about that.

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