Cancer incidence rates in Union County are reportedly among the highest in the state and the nation and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences is planning to conduct research to learn more about and help fight the disease in the county.
Emily O'Neal, UAMS manager of community partnerships and programs, and Robin Thrower, navigator, educator and community outreach specialist for UAMS, appeared before the El Dorado City Council on Nov. 18 to discuss the project.
O'Neal said UAMS has been awarded a grant to conduct cancer research specifically for Union County.
O'Neal told council members that she and Thrower are both Camden natives, noting that O'Neal has lived in El Dorado for more than three years.
"We're here based on the grounds that we live here, we work here, so our position is to educate. We're going to figure out why cancer rates are so high in Union County," O'Neal said.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in Arkansas and in the U.S. -- heart disease is number one -- and according to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 17,980 new cancer cases and 6,250 deaths from the disease have been reported in the state this year.
The ACS also reports that in 2018, 106 cancer patients died in Union County -- a number that led state and national averages in deaths per 100,000 people.
O'Neal said the UAMS study -- in a partnership with Medical Center of South Arkansas -- will include environmental research and focus on four types of cancer: breast, colorectal, lung and cervical.
"We're going to be doing lots of research and then education. We're going to be offering education (and) free screenings," she said.
O'Neal cited a need for additional cancer resources in the area, noting there is one local, part-time oncologist that serves the entire county.
"For the cancer rates in Union County to be so high, we do believe that we need to be adding resources here and we want the citizens of Union County to get just as good of care here and not having to drive to ... Little Rock and putting that strain on themselves and their families," she said.
In addition to education and screenings, Thrower said the research will focus on preventative care, treatment plans and services.
Another focal point, she said, is environmental services, with an eye on industrial plants in Union County.
"We're trying to get into those industries to do more education and to understand more about the toxins that may be released into our atmosphere and things that we're breathing in so we're really, really focusing on that," Thrower explained, pointing to a long-held concern of many areas residents.
O'Neal said UAMS is in the process of creating and expanding a community advisory board for Union County and South Arkansas.
"Our plan is not to talk about it. We want to move the needle, I guess, and really get things going here and make a difference," she said.
As a part of the team-building process, O'Neal called on the local community to reach out to UAMS with ideas or requests for screenings or educational events, such as health fairs.
"If there's anything we can do for you guys or businesses, anything that you guys are involved in or if you have any ideas or if you say, 'Hey, this is where we see a huge lack in education or screenings,' we'll be more than happy to try to make a difference and help you guys out," O'Neal said.
She more details about the study are forthcoming.
For additional information, call Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer's office at 870-862-7911.