AUSTIN -- Cancer is the number one cause of death in Central Texas and a top health concern for residents in the area. To that end, several health organizations and the LIVESTRONG Foundation commissioned a report to find out the best ways to reverse that trend.
Central Texas has good, quality cancer care, but an immense opportunity to be innovative in its cancer services and to provide better access to those services. That's the assessment of an advisory group of cancer care experts outlined in a report released Friday called the Greater Austin Region Cancer Care White Paper.
"It's one of those reports that some of the things you thought to be true proved to be true, but some of the things that you know were gaps we have verified," said State Senator Kirk Watson, (D) Austin.
The report focused on care provided in Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell counties. It indicated while there is excellent cancer care available in Central Texas, that care doesn't always extend to everyone. Citing Austin as an example, while overall cancer incidence and mortality rates were found to be lower than the Texas average, Austin has the highest rate of uninsured adults under 65 in the state.
"We have a significant number of folks that are under insured in our community that don't get the early detection and prevention services that they need," said Patricia Young-Brown, the president and CEO of Central Health. "Unfortunately when we do detect their cancers they are in more advanced stages, and it's more difficult to treat. Sometimes the outcomes aren't as good as they could be."
"I'm alive today because of access to early and frequent health care," said Watson. "We caught my cancer early enough that, even though it was kind of a brutal process to get through it, I'm convinced that early detection made a difference. We have too many people that are vulnerable because they don't get that early detection, and that makes a difference."
LIVESTRONG President and CEO Doug Ulman says while it's important newly diagnosed cancer patients receive early treatment, it's equally important not to forget the long-term survivors.
"We focus a lot of attention on people that are newly diagnosed, but there are tens of thousands of long term survivors in Central Texas," said Ulman. "They need long-term follow up and services, and we're really determined to focus on that population."
Ulman says the report indicates there's a perception among residents in Central Texas that to get the best cancer care they have to leave Central Texas. He says that's simply not the case because, as the report indicated, excellent cancer care is available in the greater Austin region.