Over the years, American Cancer Society (ACS) statistics have consistently indicated that Louisiana has one of the highest cancer mortality rates in the nation. In response to these appalling statistics, Louisiana made a concerted effort to determine the reasons why so many people living in the state have died from cancer. Many studies involving the state’s tumor registry indicated that, in general, the cancer incident rates in Louisiana tended not to exceed national rates for many types of cancer. Instead, we historically have higher mortality rates. This distinction indicated the likelihood of Louisiana residents being diagnosed in later or incurable stages of cancer and not in earlier stages when treatment could be more successful.
In 2002, the Louisiana State Legislature took a series of actions with the long-term goal of reducing cancer mortality rates and addressing the staggering costs to the State economy as a result of lost productivity. In addition to the human toll, economic analysis indicated that approximately $400 million a year in productivity losses occurred in Louisiana due to cancer-related deaths.
The Legislature passed Senate Bill 73 during the 2002 special session to create the Louisiana Cancer Research Center of LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans/Tulane Health Sciences Center (LCRC). The resulting State Act No. 41 provided for the LCRC, which included a structure for the two originating consortium partners, LSU Health Sciences Center and Tulane University Health Sciences Center, to work together through the LCRC and advance a coordinated effort toward cancer research development. Aware of the need for improved access to care and early detection, the Legislature recognized that there was no NCI-designated cancer center within an easy travel distance for residents. The nearest NCI Center one was located in another state over 350 miles west of New Orleans. Studies also indicated that a functional NCI-designated cancer center in Louisiana would significantly reduce the number of deaths from cancer in Louisiana, as well as cause a significant reduction in loss-of-productivity negative economic impact (Khan, 2003).
To provide dedicated funding to LCRC, a not-for-profit 501(c)3 entity, the State Legislature passed House Bill 157 during the 2002 Regular Legislative Session. This instituted a 12-cent tax increase on a pack of cigarettes, three cents of which would fund infrastructure and research program development for LCRC. Until recent years this tax has generated approximately $10 million per year in revenue for LCRC to develop competitiveness for seeking an NCI-designation.
Constructing a state-of-the-art research facility to encourage cross-institutional collaborations has been part of our long-term plan for working toward an NCI-designation. After overcoming monumental challenges, the new LCRC research facility was completed in 2012.
LCRC began initial design and pre-construction activities in 2004 for a ten-story research facility on Tulane and South Claiborne Avenues in New Orleans. We were slated to break ground in October 2005, but in late August 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the U.S. Gulf Coast region. Construction costs after Katrina rose by more than 40 percent, forcing LCRC to postpone construction because LCRC could not afford constructing the much-needed facility on existing annual revenue.
In 2005, the American Cancer Society estimated 9,670 cancer-related deaths in Louisiana. Driven by the urgent need to reduce these numbers, LCRC pushed ahead with design, pre-construction and budget revisions. To keep us moving forward, the Louisiana legislature approved an additional $62 million for building construction. In 2009, we broke ground for the LCRC facility, making us one of the first new large construction projects to start in post-Katrina New Orleans.