Cancer Issues in Oklahoma

Oklahoma suffers from a heavy burden of cancer. The state’s cancer statistics highlight this problem:

  • 20,540 new cancer cases a year
  • 8,420 cancer deaths a year
  • 7th highest cancer mortality rate (per 100,000) among all states

Incidence: Oklahoma has higher than average incidence rates for several cancers, including: lung and bronchus, colorectal, cervix, kidney and renal pelvis, and oral cavity and pharynx. Health risk factors, including high rates of tobacco use and obesity, poor dietary habits, and lower than average participation in diagnostic screening, contribute to this high incidence.

Mortality: Oklahoma’s overall cancer mortality rate is 14% higher than the national average. The state has mortality rates that are significantly higher than the overall US rates for a number of cancers, including: lung and bronchus (28% higher), colorectal (19% higher), cervix (30% higher), and kidney and renal pelvis (32% higher). Several socio-economic factors, including access to care barriers and high rates of poverty and uninsured, contribute to this increased mortality rate.

Online resources for understanding cancer incidence and mortality rates in Oklahoma and nationally include:

  • Oklahoma’s State Cancer Profile, produced by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), can be found here.
  • Cancer Facts & Figures, produced annually by the American Cancer Society (ACS), is an excellent online resource for state cancer incidence and mortality data across all disease sites. It can be found here.
  • The Oklahoma Comprehensive Cancer Network, housed in the Oklahoma State Department of Health, is a CDC-funded initiative that integrates and coordinates the efforts of multiple organizations to address the problem of cancer in Oklahoma. More information, including state cancer statistics, can be found here.

Legislative Mandate, Mission and Catchment Area

Stephenson Cancer Center (SCC) was established in 2001 when Oklahoma passed bipartisan-supported legislation directing the University of Oklahoma to create an academic cancer center to provide “statewide leadership in cancer research, prevention, information and treatment” and seek to attain “national recognition for excellence in the fight against cancer by being named a designated cancer center by the National Cancer Institute” (OK House Bill 1072). SCC’s statewide mission of improving patient outcomes and reducing the burden of cancer reflects this legislative mandate.

SCC achieved the goal of National Cancer Institute (NCI) Designation in 2018. As the only such center in Oklahoma, SCC has a statewide mission to improve patient outcomes and reduce Oklahoma’s burden of cancer. The following activities and collaborations help SCC advance this mission:

Cancer-Relevant Issues in Oklahoma

Oklahoma has a number of cancer-relevant issues specific to its population. As the state’s only NCI-Designated Cancer Center, SCC has a mission to address these issues:

Cancer Health Disparities among American Indians in Oklahoma. High cancer incidence and mortality rates impact the state’s large American Indian population:

  • American Indians in Oklahoma experience an overall cancer incidence rate that is 1.4x higher than the US (all races) rates. Oklahoma has the highest age-adjusted American Indian cancer incidence rate of any state for all cancers.
  • American Indians in Oklahoma experience an overall cancer mortality rate that is 1.5x higher than the US (all races) rates.
  • In Oklahoma, mortality rates among American Indians are 50% to 99% higher for lung, prostate and colorectal cancer, over 100% higher for cervical cancer, and over 200% higher for kidney cancer.

SCC places a high priority on addressing these cancer health disparities, and SCC investigators are actively collaborating with tribal health systems and communities throughout the state to accomplish this goal. Read more about these collaborations and activities here.

Cancer Health Disparities in Rural Oklahoma. In Oklahoma, 38% of the state’s total population lives in federally designated rural counties. This percentage is more than 2.5x the national average of 14%. Higher than average cancer incidence and mortality rates affect this population:

  • Oklahoma’s rural residents (all races) experience an overall cancer incidence rate that is 5.8% higher than the US (all races) rate. However, they have an overall cancer mortality rate that is 15.5% higher than the corresponding US rate.
  • Compared to the US (all races) rate, incidence rates for Oklahoma’s rural residents of all races are more than 20% higher for lung and cervical cancer, and mortality rates are more than 20% for lung, colorectal, kidney, and cervical cancer.

The SCC supports several initiatives to address cancer health disparities in the state’s large rural population:

  • SCC investigators are conducting pilot projects to enhance care coordination between primary physicians and oncologists for rural patients. They are collaborating with the Oklahoma Physicians Resource / Research Network, one of the premier primary care research networks in the nation, to implement prevention and screening strategies in the rural primary care setting.
  • The SCC’s Statewide Clinical Trials Network, which involves health systems throughout Oklahoma, makes accessing clinical trials more convenient for rural cancer patients.

Contact Information

Mark Doescher, M.D., MSPH
Associate Director for Cancer Prevention and Control, SCC
Director, Community Outreach and Engagement Core
Professor, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine
University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center

Dorothy Rhoades, M.D., MPH
Director, American Indian Cancer Research Initiatives, SCC
Co-Director, Community Outreach and Engagement Core
Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Medicine
University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center

Community Outreach and Engagement Core

Core Staff
Stephanie Pharr, BS, CHES
Community Outreach Coordinator

Lindsey Diel BS, CPHQ
Community Outreach Liaison

Lauri Hunsucker, MA
Program Coordinator

Valerie Moise, MS
Community Outreach Liaison

Carla Ponce, MM
Community Outreach Liaison

Ayesha Sambo, MPH, CPH
Research Epidemiologist

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