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Maryland Legislature Told Cancer Deaths Declining, Oral Health Improving

Members of the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) faculty were among a handful of medical professionals who briefed the Maryland legislature this week on the state of cancer prevention and treatment, and oral health.

Kevin Cullen, MD (photo far right), director of the Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center (UMGCC) described for the House Health and Government Operations Committee some of the reasons why UMGCC has been ranked as one of the top cancer centers in the nation six years in a row.

An important factor in that success, Cullen explained, has been the Cigarette Restitution Fund (CRF), which has supported critical research, such as that performed by Angela Brodie, PhD. Brodie's research on the enzyme aromatase has led to the development of a new class of agents for breast cancer treatment, and three new compounds approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

"We have reduced the recurrence rate in women diagnosed with breast cancer by 40 percent," Cullen said. Another new drug discovered by Brodie's team, Galeterone - an androgen receptor antagonist - has great promise as a treatment for prostate cancer, he added.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore has also successfully leveraged faculty and researchers' expertise and accomplishment to attract private support for advances in cancer treatment. Cullen cited the ongoing construction of the Maryland Proton Treatment Center. The $200 million facility at the University of Maryland BioPark is entirely privately funded, he told the committee, and will begin treating patients next year.

Another panelist, Stanley Watkins, MD, medical oncologist and chair of the Maryland State Council on Cancer Control, told committee members just how far the state has come in preventing cancer deaths. In 1992, he said, Maryland had the highest cancer death rate in the nation. "By 2013 we were below the national average mortality rate," Watkins said, ranking 30th in the nation. "From first to 30th is an incredible success."

Overall, Marylanders still have a long way to go to achieve healthy lifestyles that can help prevent cancers and other medical maladies, according to Courtney Lewis, director of the Center for Cancer Prevention and Control at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) Although the rate of smoking has declined, "in 2010 only 34 percent of Marylanders had a healthy weight," she said.

A second panel of experts expressed a positive outlook on the state of the state's oral health. Seven years ago, 12-year old Prince George's County resident Deamonte Driver died after an infection from an abscessed tooth spread to his brain. Driver's family did not have dental insurance, and he did not receive routine dental care. Driver only received emergency care a full six weeks after first complaining of headaches.

"Marylanders' access (to dental care) in the late 1990's was last in the U.S.," said Harry Goodman, DDS, MPH, director of the DHMH Office of Oral Health. "It now surpasses the national average."

Goodman explained to the committee that DHMH has worked to restructure the dental public health infrastructure, institute school-based oral health screenings, create a 'public health dental hygienist' category to enable dental hygienists working for public health programs to provide certain services without a dentist first having to see the patient, initiate a single Medicaid dental vendor, and increase Medicaid reimbursement.

Norman Tinanoff, DDS, MS, director of the University of Maryland School of Dentistry Division of Pediatric Dentistry - expanded on Goodman's final point. "Restorative (dental) fees were last raised in 2003," he testified. Tinanoff sits on the board of the Maryland Dental Action Coalition, which advocates raising Medicaid reimbursement fees in order to foster better practices. "It's less than a break-even situation when Maryland dentists are providing care to children with Medicaid," he said.
Posting Date: 01/17/2014
Contact Name: Alex Likowski
Contact Phone: 410-706-3801
Contact Email: alikowski@umaryland.edu