COMMENTARY: Let’s fight cancer together

Cancer is the second most common cause of death in Texas adults, and the same is true in the Rio Grande Valley. According to the Texas Cancer Registry Annual Report 2019, an estimated 124,383 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in Texas and an estimated 45,524 Texans will die from cancer. In 2017, Hidalgo County had 2,411 cancer cases, of which 814 resulted in death.

Last year, Dr. John Krouse, dean of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, stated that “cervical cancer in women occurs more frequently in the Valley and when it occurs the mortality rate is much higher in the Valley. That is just unacceptable. That is something we need to address, and we need to fix.” I completely agree and we have been taking the necessary steps to tackle these challenges.

The first step in this process was passing a bill in 2013 that created the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and the accompanying School of Medicine. This transformational institution has brought millions of dollars in state and federal funding to our region, increased our healthcare infrastructure and personnel, and has allowed us to begin addressing many of our health care needs.

It has also opened the doors to public-private partnerships that benefit us all, such as the opening of the UTRGV Biomedical Research Building. This opening was made possible due to the collaboration between the SOM, the city of McAllen and DHR Health. This building in McAllen is home to the South Texas Center of Excellence in Cancer Research and a new cancer immunology team that will focus on women’s cancer, starting with cervical cancer and transitioning to breast cancer. I appreciate McAllen’s financial contribution and commitment to fund this research program. This cooperative effort will lead to new treatment opportunities for patients with cancer.

To continue making progress to address the challenge with breast and cervical cancer, I secured $2.7 million in state funds to support the Cervical Dysplasia and Cancer Immunology Center. We have been working to transfer the center from the University of Texas Medical Branch to UTRGV School of Medicine. This will improve cooperation and coordination of diagnoses, treatment and research to fight breast and cervical Cancer.

Another program that could help improve cancer diagnosis and prognosis for those in the Valley is a biorepository for cancer research. Doctors Hospital at Renaissance is working to obtain a Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas grant that will allow them to expand the current Border BioRepository at DHR to establish a cancer biorepository.

These efforts will be of great benefit to the women in the Valley and South Texas, but there is still more to be done. Cancer has no boundaries and can impact anyone regardless of age, gender or race. For this reason, we are working with community leaders in both the public and private sector on establishing a world-class cancer treatment clinic that will provide care to Valley patients here at home. We are pursuing partnerships with the best entities in the field, to make this vision a reality.

In the past six months, we have met with CPRIT leadership to advocate not only for additional funding to help prevent cancer, but also for financial support to recruit oncologists and expand our cancer treatment infrastructure in South Texas. CPRIT is a key funding source for cancer research and treatment provided to our universities, medical schools, and other entities committed to fighting cancer. For this reason, I advocated for and supported the appointment of Dr. Ambrosio Hernandez to the CPRIT Board. He is a physician with extensive experience in public health, is a dedicated public servant, and understands the needs of our communities.

We have also pushed for additional partnerships with the best entities in the field, such as M.D. Anderson. UTRGV is developing an oncology program that will assist in actively recruiting clinical oncologists to increase our clinical workforce in this field and provide guidance and expertise in developing best practices and treatments for patient care.

Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa represents Texas State Senate District 20, which extends from Hidalgo County to Nueces County. He writes for The Monitor’s Board of Contributors.