“As for Carroll County, heart disease is still the leading cause of death,” said Belen Moran, state health-risk communicator for the Georgia Department of Human Resources. “It contributes to 31 percent of all deaths in Carroll County.”
The second leading cause of death in the county is cancer, Moran said. Twenty percent of all deaths are attributed to cancer, very close to the 21 percent average statewide, she said. But in the county, like the rest of the state, cancer mortality and incident rates are going down.
“Worldwide, cancer will overtake all other causes of death, and the biggest reason for that is the increase in smoking in a lot of the countries such as China and India,” said Dr. Richie Bland, medical director of the Roy Richards Cancer Center in Carrollton. “That’s why there will be an increase worldwide in the incidence of cancer rates -- more so than heart disease or any other disease.”
In the United States, people are adopting healthier lifestyles -- eating better, exercising and fewer people are smoking. That is one reason for the decreasing cancer rate, Bland said. At the same time, improved cancer screening and preventative medicine are helping to make cancer treatments more effective.
“People are getting colonoscopies,” Bland said. “People are getting mammograms. People are getting their pap smears, and there’s a lot of people that are found with premalignant lesions that are being treated and taken care of, and so they’re not developing into cancer.”
Detecting cancer faster allows earlier treatment which is usually more successful. The end result is that doctors are seeing fewer cases of cancer, and those they are seeing are more curable. Many poorer countries don’t have preventative care available for much of their population, meaning they have a growing problem on their hands.
At Tanner Health System, the Roy Richards Cancer Center has been treating patients since 1989. The center just broke ground on a $5 million expansion project.
At the cancer center, about 300 patients receive about 10,000 cancer treatments in a year.
“I think that we will become busier, but it’s not because there’s more cancer,” he said. “The increase in population in our service area and also with us adding more and more specialized cancer treatment techniques, it will allow us to treat here in Carrollton patients that we might would have had to refer somewhere else.”
The center does mainly radiation treatment while the Northwest Georgia Oncology Center next door handles chemotherapy. The two work closely together, an indication of one of the changes that have taken place over the years in cancer treatment.
Different cancers react differently to different treatments and so more and more patients are receiving a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Bland said. Patients may receive a combination of two or all three treatments depending in the type of cancer, he said.
“It’s hard to generalize just across the board,” Bland said. “Of all the many hundreds of different types of cancer out there, we still treat each one individually.”
To that end, Tanner Health System has formed a cancer committee that meets quarterly to figure out ways to improve cancer treatment. One of the things the committee did was form a tumor conference for radiation oncologists, medical oncologists (chemotherapy doctors), surgeons, pathologists and radiologists -- the team of people who would be involved in the patients’ treatments -- to get together and review difficult cancer cases. That allows them all to decide together the best treatment for the patients.
“Twice a month we have those tumor conferences,” Bland said. “That has been very helpful.”
All these things are coming together to help make cancer and its treatment more rare and much more curable. It’s too early to call it a trend, since this is the first year a decrease in all cancers was recorded, he said. But it is a positive sign.
“We are finally beginning to make some headway into the battle against cancer,” Bland said.