At this time of year, when Kentuckians are obsessed with rankings, consider these from the National Cancer Institute:
■ We're No. 1 in overall cancer death rate.
■ We're No. 1 in lung cancer death rate.
■ We're No. 2 in the incidence of colon cancer, with a rate that is 20 percent higher than the national average.
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Nothing to cheer about.
A group of Kentuckians are making a stab at lowering those rankings through the recently announced Kentucky Cancer Foundation. The foundation's goal is to fight cancer by increasing screening and prevention efforts paid for with a combination of public and private funds, starting with colon cancer.
In 2008, the General Assembly created the Colon Cancer Screening Program but has never funded it.
This year, Gov. Steve Beshear, himself a cancer survivor, has taken a positive first step by including $1 million in his budget for colon cancer screenings.
The foundation has pledged to match that with private funds. The $2 million would pay for about 4,000 screenings for people with no or inadequate health insurance.
The group has chosen to focus on colon cancer initially because the screening can yield such high dividends. Cancers in general are more easily, effectively and inexpensively treated when discovered early but colon cancer can actually be prevented when doctors remove non-cancerous polyps discovered through screening.
The benefits are obvious to the individuals and families affected. Screenings can prevent the emotional pain of fighting cancer as well as the economic and other challenges that they and the larger community suffer.
For Kentucky, the need to lower cancer rates and deaths is painfully obvious. We lose too many productive citizens to cancer and, of course, these rankings are not the type that attract business and talent.
This $2 million will not solve the problem. But it is a start, a way to leverage private money to take on this huge challenge.
The foundation's founders are hopeful that if Kentucky can demonstrate some progress they'll be able to attract interest from national foundations to assist in the effort.
Beshear's appropriation, included in the huge bill that contains the entire state budget, has passed the House of Representatives.
The Senate should look on it favorably as well. Even in these tough times, it's a worthwhile investment that could repay our citizens many times over.