20% in central Colorado smoke
Tuesday, November 06, 2001 - IDAHO SPRINGS - The Marlboro man is alive but not well in central Colorado, according to a new regional cancer study released Monday by the state health department.
The region formed by Chaffee, Clear Creek, Custer, Fremont, Gilpin, Lake, Park and Teller counties shows a higher-than-average percentage of smokers and a higher incidence of lung cancer, but is near normal for other forms of cancer, according to the two-year study, the third in a series taking place across the state.
"Central Colorado is not substantially different than the rest of Colorado, which, in the scheme of things, is actually doing fairly well. But there are some things to attend to, especially tobacco use," said Dr. Tim Byers, a professor of medical school cancer research at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.
Given that most cancers are either avoidable by eliminating high-risk habits such as smoking or treatable with early detection, the studies, sponsored by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, are intended to give a localized glimpse at the factors involved in cancer and its prevention.
In 1999, the department published a study of eastern Colorado, and last year, it focused on western Colorado before training its attentions on the central core of the state by reviewing medical records and conducting telephone surveys.
"If there's any one thing this region needs to focus on, it's tobacco control," Byers said, adding that smoking also contributes to chronic heart disease and other life-limiting ailments.
He attributed some of the problem to the lingering glamor of the "Marlboro man" image in the West.
Researchers were troubled that a full 20 percent of the population reported being smokers, including a huge number of 18-to-34-year-olds, and many residents do not seek screenings to catch breast, cervical, prostate and colon cancers in their earliest - and most treatable - stages.
"If we detect them at an early stage, most cancers are treatable," Byers said.
He also noted that half of the residents in the region as well as statewide are overweight, which has become an epidemic among children and a contributing factor to some forms of cancer.
The good news out of all of this is that Colorado is second-best in the nation in occurrence of cancer (behind Utah), and the trends show decreasing incidence of nearly all forms, as public awareness and pre-emptive screenings have risen in recent years.
Idaho Springs, for instance, recently initiated a coalition to prevent teens from smoking, and the Columbine Family Health Center has presented awareness campaigns and provided screenings for the past two years, according to Jean Barta, a nurse with the Clear Creek County Health Department.
"These are things that are not expendable," said state Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Golden, the chairwoman of the legislature's rural health-care task force, who attended the briefing Monday. "These are life and death issues."