A three-year pilot project aimed at reducing Kentucky's lung cancer rates ended recently, but a new round of federal funding is expected to continue the work another five years.

Ohio County was one of only eight counties statewide involved in the Lung Cancer Prevention and Survivorship Is Good Business pilot program, which targeted businesses with male populations of 50 percent or greater.

Studies show lung cancer rates are higher among men in the state. Those rates are significantly higher in certain counties. Also, some state health officials believe the best way to reach men with health-related information is through their employers.

Casey, Christian, Clay, Jackson, McCracken, Ohio, Perry and Warren counties were selected based on their rates of lung cancer, poverty, medically underserved, literacy and hospitalizations.

A total of 82 worksites and 51 community organizations took part in the pilot program, said Jennifer Redmond Knight, assistant professor at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health, Department of Health Management and Policy.

Preliminary information in the program's summary report did not break down information by county. And officials continue to gather results from employers who surveyed workers about whether they had lung cancer screenings or attempted to quit smoking.

"Folks were really responsive," Redmond Knight said of the pilot program. "Some said they would like to learn more and do more."

A mix of federal and state funding paid for the project because Kentucky has the highest rate of new lung cancer cases and deaths from the disease in the U.S.

Besides tobacco use, the pilot program focused on radon, which is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Large pockets of Kentucky have elevated radon gas levels. The combination of radon gas and cigarette smoke increases the risk for lung cancer more than either factor alone.

A new round of funding will keep the pilot project going five more years, Redmond Knight said. "The funding entity wants to focus more on smoke-free workplaces, and they want to focus on smoking cessation opportunities for employees."

Next week, a group of health officials involved with the pilot project will meet to discuss what is ahead for the program. Redmond Knight expects radon testing and lung cancer screenings to remain important components.

Initially, she expects the program to remain confined to the eight counties that were selected for the pilot project.

"In future years, the possibility exists to expand beyond that," Redmond Knight said.

According to the pilot program's summary report, worksites saw more success when they had strong leadership buy-in, enhanced partnerships with community organizations and coalitions, actionable projects and programs tailored to meet workplace needs.

Likewise, the pilot program met challenges, which included implementing programs during summer months, competing priorities in workplaces, changes in worksite leadership and language barriers.

Before long, an online resource guide will be uploaded for businesses to review and use as a template for developing their own programs, Redmond Knight said. The resource guide remains in its draft stage for now.

It contains valuable information, such as most health insurance plans, Medicaid and Medicare cover lung cancer screenings. High-risk employees may be eligible for annual low-dose CT screenings, which detect abnormalities at an earlier stage and increase survival rates.

The guide provides resources for smoking cessation products and radon test kits. It lists numerous activities to engage employees in efforts to curb the use of tobacco products and live healthier lifestyles.

"In addition to the human suffering, the (annual) financial costs of lung cancer totals over $12 billion (in Kentucky)," the resource guide reports. "This cost goes up to an estimated $39 billion when you include losses of time and economic productivity."

Smoking causes more than 80 percent of lung cancer cases. Radon is the second most common cause, and secondhand smoke comes in third.

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

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