On Friday, Nov. 20, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) released an ambitious far-reaching “NC Comprehensive Cancer Control Action Plan 2020-2025” that’s meant to address a host of cancer challenges affecting North Carolinians in specific communities.

The plan includes actions targeted at disparities found among historically marginalized and rural communities that often see a disproportionate number of cancer cases and cancer deaths.

According to state health officials, the plan is meant to be “a statewide blueprint for everyone working to reduce the burden of cancer on North Carolinians.”

Cancer is the leading cause of death in the state. Thanks to a variety of factors, it hits certain segments of the population harder than others. Those factors include differences in lifestyles, diet and things like access to affordable medical testing.

NCDHHS Chronic Disease and Injury Section Chief Dr. Susan Kansagra said the focus of the five-year plan is to “build on successes from the previous cancer plan and increase our efforts toward achieving health equity for all.”

The plan includes strategies such as increasing screening rates and promoting prevention measures for cancers that are preventable.

The “priority” cancers being addressed by the plan are lung, breast, colorectal and prostate cancers – which are the four most deadly cancers in North Carolina – as well as cervical and skin cancers.

The program will look at risk factors, prevention, early detection, treatment and strategic actions meant to reduce mortality and incidence rates.

There are four main goals of the program:

  • Reduce cancer risks by supporting health behavior change in North Carolinians.
  • Increase cancer screening and early detection of cancer.
  • Improve access to cancer care, enhanced care coordination and quality treatment.
  • Improve the knowledge and understanding of cancer, cancer care and the relationship between cancer and other chronic diseases among health care professionals and the general public.

The problem of early detection for cancer has gotten worse due to the pandemic: With COVID-19 concerns resulting in the postponement of some routine medical procedures, national cancer screening rates for cancers have declined significantly.

For more information, people can read the full Cancer Control Action Plan by visiting publichealth.nc.gov/cccp/.