Report: Texas needs further work on cancer prevention efforts

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A new statewide report shows that Texas still needs work in several areas related to cancer prevention. 

The report released Thursday by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network says though Texas has evidence-based policies and best practices related to indoor tanning and access to palliative care, it still needs improvement on its smoke-free laws, tobacco prevention and cessation funding and Medicaid expansion. Texas is one of 15 states that hasn’t expanded eligibility for its Medicaid program. 

A March 2019 analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation states that nationwide, “2.5 million poor uninsured adults fall into the ‘coverage’ gap that results from state decisions not to expand Medicaid.” These are the people that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but are below the limit for the Affordable Care Act’s Marketplace premium tax credits. 

Texas is one of has 15 states that have a state law banning tanning for minors. However, Texas spent less than a quarter of the recommended annual funding level on tobacco control by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a 2014 report, the agency recommended that Texas’ annual investment every year should be $264.1 million. In fiscal year 2019, Texas spent $4.2 million for state tobacco prevention. However, there are different programs working across the state on this issue.

“Very few of those are likely funded by the state of Texas,” American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Texas Government Relations Director Marina Hench said. “Many of them may be related to institutes of education or non-profits.”

Only four states, California, North Dakota, Alaska and Oklahoma have set aside more than 50 percent of what was recommended by the CDC in state dollars.

Texas also doesn’t have a statewide smoke-free law. This legislative session, state lawmakers passed a bill that raises the minimum age to purchase tobacco and e-cigarettes to 21 years old.

“Tobacco 21 legislation does help to keep tobacco products out of the hands of younger kids who may seek help from older kids in purchasing tobacco products,” Hench said.

However, the report also highlights the work funded by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, also known as CPRIT.  Texans approved the constitutional amendment in 2007 to create CPRIT and will have the opportunity to vote again this November to continue the program. Proposition 6 allows for a $3 billion increase in the maximum bond amount for CPRIT.  

According to CPRIT’s website, since 2008, it has awarded $2,285,962,620 and 1,380 grants. Recipients include universities, non-profits and private companies. 

Seven-time head and neck cancer survivor Cathleen McBurney says CPRIT’s grant-funded studies helped her receive the treatment she needed.

“I shouldn’t even be here,” she said. “That’s how rare and advanced my cancer was.”

She has adenoid cystic carcinoma, a type of cancer that begins in glandular tissues in the head and neck. McBurney said she first didn’t realize that a 2011 CPRIT-funded grant is what led to the treatment doctors told her would be her only option for survival: proton therapy. Proton therapy is a specific radiation therapy that can focus high-level radiations to a small target, according to the agency’s website. It helped destroy her tumor.

When McBurney was diagnosed with metastasis in 2018, she met with CPRIT-grant recipient Dr. Jack Phan, who is a physician at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. She received Stereotactic Based Radiation Therapy in October and learned in April of this year that her other tumor was gone.

Right now, she’s battling metastasis in both her lungs as well as her liver.

“Now that it’s spread to multiple locations, I’m really sitting here at the moment not knowing where my treatment will take me,” she said.

“There is no chemotherapy and right now, there are no research trials either that have been proven to be effective on my cancer,” she added.

She heads back to MD Anderson next week for additional scans. There aren’t systemic treatments that work on her cancer. In the meantime, she’s focused on surviving and thriving.

From left to right: Cathleen’s husband, Will, her two daughters, Molly (16) and Meghan (20) and Cathleen. (Courtesy: Cathleen McBurney)

“Never give up hope,” she said. “There’s always hope and I think a lot of cancer patients get stuck in the pain and concern and the worry over their diagnosis and they forget that there is always hope.”

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