The good news: Maine is healthier now than it was in 2014. The bad news: We still lag the rest of the country when it comes to several critical measures of public health, including our rate of cancer deaths. It’s troubling, then, to hear that the state has rejected a federal grant that would help stop one of the deadliest forms of cancer in its tracks.

While rising toddler immunization rates are credited with boosting Maine from the 20th healthiest state in 2014 to 15th this year – according to the just-released annual America’s Health Rankings report – we’re not doing so well in the fight against cancer.

In that respect, we’re the 39th healthiest state, with 204 cancer deaths per 100,000 people. And colorectal cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer among men and women in Maine, as well as the third leading cause of cancer deaths.

Colorectal cancer, though, is also one of the more preventable forms of the disease. It begins as a slowly growing clump of cells, and if detected early on, it can be removed before it turns into cancer. So Maine stood to benefit from getting $2.5 million in federal funds to do outreach aimed at boosting colorectal cancer screening rates among those most at risk and least likely to be tested.

But the state Center for Disease Control and Prevention turned down the money on the grounds that spending it “on patient outreach strategies related to one type of cancer is simply not a good investment of taxpayer dollars,” as Maine CDC chief Kenneth Albert said in a statement Monday.

Which raises the question: If the project wasn’t worthwhile, why did the CDC go to the time and trouble of competing for money to pay for it?

In fact, we’d argue that the project is particularly worthy of support by a Maine public health agency. About 40 percent of Mainers are over 50, and according to America’s Health Rankings, 28 percent of us are obese, 20 percent get no regular exercise, and 19 percent smoke.

All of these are risk factors for developing colorectal cancer. What’s more, many of those most at risk of the disease live in remote areas of Maine, where it can be a challenge to travel to a family doctor or other primary care provider for screening.

Because of this disparity, rural residents are less likely than people in cities to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer early enough to be treated – making them more likely to die of it.

Maine should have embraced the grant as a way to ensure that more residents get the care they deserve. Instead, for no obvious reason, the LePage administration is forgoing an opportunity to save lives and protect public health.

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