Declining cancer statistics unveiled at Christiana Care Health System’s Helen F. Graham Cancer Center

Declining cancer statistics unveiled at Christiana Care Health System’s Helen F. Graham Cancer Center

Nicholas Petrelli
At a press conference, Bank of America Endowed Medical Director of the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center Nicholas J. Petrelli, M.D., details some of the extraordinary accomplishments that Delaware has made in the fight against cancer.

The continued progress in the reduction of Delaware cancer rates was unveiled during a statewide news conference held Wednesday, March 7, at the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center on the Christiana Hospital campus.

The cancer death rate in Delaware dropped 18 percent from 1993-97 to 2003-07, according to the report “Cancer Incidence and Mortality in Delaware, 2003-2007.” Delaware’s progress outpaces the U.S. rate of a 12.1 percent drop during the same 10-year period.

The news conference included a number of high-profile speakers: State Sen. Bethany Hall-Long (D-Glasgow and a Christiana Care trustee); Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf; Division of Public Health Director Karyl Rattay, M.D.; Nicholas J. Petrelli, M.D., the Bank of America-endowed medical director of the Cancer Center; and Stephen S. Grubbs, M.D., medical oncologist and managing partner of Medical Oncology Hematology Consultants at the Cancer Center and the principal investigator for Christiana Care’s Community Clinical Oncology Program.

The latest report also noted that the incidence and mortality rates for all site cancers in Delaware continued to decline. Between 1993-1997 and 2003-2007, Delaware’s all-site cancer mortality rate for males decreased 22.4 percent compared to the U.S. rate of 15.7 percent. During the same period, Delaware’s all-site cancer mortality rate for females decreased 15.2 percent, compared to the national rate of 10.9 percent.

The most impressive results have been in colorectal cancer. A group formed in 2001 to advise the governor and lawmakers on ways to reduce cancer rates, known as the Delaware Cancer Consortium, prioritized increased screening for colorectal cancer through colonoscopies and sigmoidoscopies, which has led to earlier detection to catch cancer before it spreads. This initiative subsequently has decreased both the incidence and death rate from colorectal cancer and has eliminated the racial disparity through the outreach and education efforts.

“In Delaware, we have eliminated a racial disparity in colorectal cancer,” said Dr. Grubbs, a member of the consortium. “I challenge any state to show they have eliminated a health disparity statewide.”

Dr. Petrelli also credited the work of the Cancer Center’s Community Health Outreach and Education Program navigators, a team that is dedicated to helping Delawareans learn more about what causes cancer and the risk factors involved. He also praised other local hospitals and their outreach teams.

The cancer rates can be reduced “when you have the resources and the talented people like we do who go tirelessly into the community to find people who are at risk,” said Dr. Petrelli, who also is a member of the consortium.

Grubbs said about $8.75 million annually has been saved because of the colorectal cancer screening initiative, due to fewer cancer cases, less complicated treatments because cancers are detected early and fewer relapses since they don’t progress as far before detection and treatment. Those savings do not factor in the loss of work productivity and complications related to cancer cases that were averted.

“It’s an extremely cost-effective program,” Petrelli said. “With skyrocketing costs in medical care, we have to be cognizant of that.”

Secretary Landgraf praised Christiana Care’s efforts in encouraging people to get cancer screenings through the state’s Screening for Life program, which provides the payment for cancer screening tests to qualified Delaware adults. There have been 3,924 people screened by Christiana Care through the Screening for Life program, according to the Delaware Division of Public Health.

“In this very personal fight to save lives, Delaware is making substantial progress,” Landgraf said. “Across the spectrum of care, there are many reasons for our improvements, but we surely wouldn’t have come as far as we have—as quickly as we have—without the leadership provided by so many people here today.”

The highlight of the news conference was a testimonial by breast cancer survivor Jane Burslem of North Wilmington. Burslem was diagnosed with cancer in her left breast after a routine screening. She was treated successfully at the Cancer Center.

“It was the annual mammogram that found the cancer in the first place,” Burslem said. “… But the cancer is now a small blip in my life thanks to the message of early detection.”

Photo gallery: Delaware cancer statistics unveiled

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