TYLER, TX (KLTV) - Cancer death rates in the United States have been declining for 25 years. Experts credit the decline to lower smoking rates.
But, in East Texas, that is not the case.
"I always tell people that smoking is definitely the worst thing you can do for your health,” says Dr. Marc Usrey, a medical oncologist. “It causes 1 in 5 deaths in the United States. If you took breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer and added up all the cases across the U.S., it still doesn't meet what lung cancer does."
In East Texas, tobacco use is substantially higher than the rest of the state, and because of that, doctors are seeing more lung cancer cases here compared to other parts of the state.
“Smoking is generally not considered bad here, and that’s because everyone smokes,” says Dr. Kamran Shahid, an assistant professor of medical oncology at UT Health MD Anderson Tyler.
In 2009, the Texas Department of State Health Services reported 26 percent of adults in East Texas smoked tobacco, compared to the state-wide average of only 19 percent.
In 2014, nearly one in four adults in Northeast Texas were smokers, compared to 15 percent in Texas overall.
Oncologists say the lack of education regarding the subject and lack of early screening is the big issue.
“We generally see everything more in this part of Texas because we are not detecting at an early stage. We see a huge number of stage four cancers, and these are the patients who have never seen a physician in their life,” says Shahid. “We need to do something to educate the masses.”