Eagle County’s cancer survival rates among the nation’s best | VailDaily.com

Eagle County’s cancer survival rates among the nation’s best

EAGLE COUNTY — The word "cancer" is enough to tighten the throats of most people. Those of us who haven't had cancer probably know someone who has. In Eagle County, you're likely to know someone who has survived that grim diagnosis.

Eagle County, along with Summit and Pitkin counties, are all in the top five U.S. counties for survival rates from breast and lung cancers. Summit County's survival rates from breast, lung and prostate cancers lead the nation.

The Shaw Regional Cancer Center in Edwards is where most locals go for treatment — along with residents from around the region. Two doctors from Shaw, Dr. Alec Urquhart and Dr. Patricia Hardenbergh, the center's director, recently answered some emailed questions about cancer survival rates where we live.

Hardenbergh wrote that "three E's" play a big role in survival rates in the area:

• Early detection.

• Education.

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• Exercise.

That third "E" isn't unique to the high country. But, Eagle, Summit and Pitkin counties have populations that are, in general, more fit than national averages.

"Maintaining a healthy body weight, diet and exercise have all been linked to lower risk for developing cancer, as well as better outcomes in cancer survivors," Urquhart wrote.

Urquhart added that the Shaw Center also offers diet and exercise programs for survivors.

With the Shaw Center, Eagle County has some of the most modern mammography facilities in the U.S., along with a specialist trained to read mammograms and other images designed to detect cancers in their earliest stages.

The Shaw Center, along with other local efforts, also stress early detection to a relatively small population. In other words, more people know about early detection and are seeking it out.

That's where programs, including Pink Vail, help. Money raised by the local nonprofit group goes toward education and survivor programs.

Those after-care programs aren't always covered by patients' health insurance, so Pink Vail funds help people continue that care.

Patients in those survivor programs can use the on-site gym at the Shaw Center in an effort to both keep healthy and keep their weight down.

Hardenbergh wrote that breast and prostate cancer patients who gain as little as 10 pounds after treatment can be more likely to have a cancer relapse.

"We remove important hormones like estrogen and testosterone in our breast and prostate patients," Hardenbergh wrote. "They gain weight. Doctors tell them to lose weight, but they don't tell them how to lose weight." Patients at Shaw get that instruction.

Access to care

Those programs and initiatives are due in large part to the presence of a cancer clinic in the valley.

Hardenbergh wrote that the presence of a local treatment center can help raise awareness about early detection. Local treatment options can also make life easier for patients, since radiation and chemotherapy are often debilitating to patients. For those who come to the Shaw Center from outside the valley, there's Jack's Place, a 12-bedroom lodge for patients and caregivers. People can live for free at Jack's Place while receiving treatment.

The impetus for that facility — directly across the parking lot from the medical facility — came when Shaw Center employees arrived at work early one morning to find a patient who had slept in his truck the night before.

That led to a large fundraising effort to complete the caring house, which was built in large part with volunteer labor from many of the valley's construction and subcontracting companies.

Access to care a short drive away, or with overnight facilities handy, makes care more convenient.

"Accessibility increases cure rates," Hardenbergh wrote.

Accessibility also bolsters treatment options for older patients who may have a hard time getting to more-distant facilities.

While cancer is more likely in older patients, people of all ages can get various kinds of cancers. Even with the already-high cost of living here, younger people usually stay in the valley after they're diagnosed.

"Younger patients often have kids, jobs and other responsibilities and need to be able to continue their lives while receiving treatment," Urquhart wrote. "Treatment for cancer is disruptive enough. A significant reason why Shaw exists is so patients can receive top level, multidisciplinary care close to home and still maintain some normalcy during their treatment."

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com or @scottnmiller.

See the studies

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation recently published results of a study listing the nation’s highest and lowest survival rates for breast, prostate and lung cancers.

That study is at: http://www.healthdata.org/news-release/new-study-finds-where-you-live-may-determine-likelihood-dying-cancer

The Journal of the American Medical Association has a more in-depth study here: http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2598772R