For decades, the word cancer has elicited fear; in part because the disease so often kills, in part because, with a few exceptions, its causes remain elusive. So when the National Cancer Institute confirmed that Maryland has the highest cancer death rate in the nation there was a predictable feeling of bafflement.
Now Governor Schaefer has taken the first step to help the state get a handle on the problem by appointing a Council on Cancer Control. Its mission is simple: Cut the cancer death rate. The mandate, of course, is far more easily stated than achieved, largely because the most basic question is still the hardest to answer: Why is Maryland's cancer rate so high? Finding out will require a connection between causes and effects, no simple matter, and then, even more daunting, lobbying for the necessary changes in public health policies -- all of which will take time.
In the interim, the panel has a reasonable, and doable, mission: to design a public education program, oversee a campaign to identify people at risk and expand the state cancer registry to include more detailed information on who gets cancer, when the disease was diagnosed and what kind of treatment was given -- data that should prove invaluable in the long-term battle against cancer.
Clearly, the panel faces an uphill battle. But the expertise of the 15 appointees, and the governor's genuine sympathy for Marylanders suffering from "this terrible, terrible disease," is a promising start indeed.