ATLANTA – Georgia Center for Oncology Research and Education (CORE) partnered with Mercer University’s College of Health Professions on a new report, released today, indicating Georgia can expect to see more of its residents survive cancer if more funds received annually from a landmark tobacco settlement were directed to specific cancer-fighting activities.
“5 Actions to Save More Lives” cited five specific actions that, if taken, would improve cancer survivorship in the state. Currently, cancer is the second-leading cause of death for Georgians, ranking behind heart disease.
Highlights of the report were presented at a breakfast in February with legislators, providers, public health experts and cancer advocates from all over the state.
“Based on what’s working in cancer prevention and screening, if Georgia directed more of the $140 million it receives each year from the Master Settlement Agreement (TMSA) to these five actions, we would see the results,” said Nancy Paris, president and CEO of Georgia CORE, who earned her M.S. in health policy and administration from Mercer.
Dr. Nannette Turner, professor and chair of the Department of Public Health in Mercer’s College of Health Professions, was approached last year by Georgia CORE about conducting an assessment of the impact of TSMA funding in the state. She previously served in a number of roles championing cancer control in Georgia, including executive director of West Central Georgia Cancer Coalition and a committee member for Georgia Cancer Control Consortium.
Dr. Turner enlisted the assistance of Mercer’s Center for Evaluation and Applied Research, led by Dr. Huey Chen, professor of public health. Mercer faculty Liliana Morosanu, instructor of public health, Dr. Cheryl Gaddis, associate professor of public health, and Dr. Dawood (David) Sultan, associate professor of public health, also contributed to the assessment, along with Georgia Department of Public Health epidemiologist Rana Bayakly.
“We were honored to participate in this important work,” said Dr. Turner. “It is important to evaluate our cancer control efforts in Georgia to determine what we did well and the things we need to work on to continue the fight against cancer.”
The report is a follow-up to one produced by Georgia CORE in 2019, which showed members of the General Assembly – for the first time – how funds from the Master Settlement Agreement have been spent.
“No one had ever looked before to discover that the portion of TMSA dollars going to cancer-fighting actions – the original intent of the agreement – is alarming low, only about nine cents per dollar,” said Paris.
With data analyzed by Mercer and a team of cancer experts, “5 Actions to Save More Lives” cites how, with more money allocated to cancer, lives can be saved through education and screenings – specifically from colorectal, lung, prostate, breast and cervical cancers – the most preventable.
“Keeping this information in front of us is important,” said Sen. Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge), who attended February’s breakfast and is also a physician. “Given our current budget is in a bit of a medical crisis of its own, we have to continually look at all available resources and how they are directed to things as important as fighting cancer.”
In addition to actions that can save lives, the report points out that in three of the four most preventable cancers, Georgians who are African-American are typically more likely to die from cancer than their white counterparts.
“The data show huge disparities in deaths from cancer, and this needs attention,” said Dr. Turner. “For instance, the incidence of prostate cancer in African-American men is nearly twice that of white Georgia men – and the death rates are nearly three times higher. We can and should reduce this disparity by focusing our efforts with increased screening and education around treatment for this population. Tobacco settlement dollars can support both of these actions.”
According to Georgia CORE’s analysis, the first year of TMSA funding looked promising. About $56 million that first year was spent on cancer-related activities, with a little spike to almost $63 million the following year. But then that amount dropped, and it’s never recovered. This fiscal year alone, the amount was reduced by 60 percent.
“We hope Georgians will use this report as a tool to speak with their legislators about the tobacco funding and why it is so critical that a dedicated stream consistently goes to cancer education, prevention, screening and treatment,” said Paris. “The lives that we will save are more than worth the investment.”
Funders of “5 Actions to Save More Lives” include Aflac, Georgia Department of Community Health, Georgia Department of Public Health, Georgia Health Foundation, Georgia Research Alliance, Georgia Society of Clinical Oncology and Healthcare Georgia Foundation.
About the College of Health Professions
Mercer University’s College of Health Professions is composed of five disciplines: physical therapy, physician assistant studies, public health, clinical psychology, and athletic training. The College offers a doctoral-level physical therapy program, master’s-level physician assistant program, bachelor’s- and master’s-level public health programs, doctoral-level program in clinical psychology, and master’s-level athletic training program. The Department of Physical Therapy offers residencies in orthopaedic, neurologic and cardiovascular/pulmonary physical therapy; a fellowship in orthopaedic manual physical therapy; and an onsite clinic. Each program is housed in a department that provides students with comprehensive didactic courses taught by an extraordinary faculty and extensive clinical experience enhanced by outstanding service-learning opportunities. For more information, visit chp.mercer.edu.