Southwest Georgians have a 35 percent higher cancer rate, are often diagnosed later and sometimes have less access to treatment than their counterparts in the rest of the state. Together those factors combine for a deadly toll from the disease , health officials said. A grant announced by Govenor Roy Barnes represents a step toward improving those grim statistics. The $250,000 planning grant was awarded to the Southwest Georgia Cancer Coalition, a 38-county group that has raised more than $400,000 of matching funds in cash and in-kind contributions from regional healthcare providers and businesses. Following the 10-month study period, the coalition will submit an application seeking designation as a Georgia Cancer Program of Excellence. That recognition would bring more state dollars and "mean we will be able to focus all our efforts over Southwest Georgia on the goals of the Southwest Georgia Cancer Coalition," said Ken B. Beverly, president of Archbold Medical Center in Thomasville and chairman of the coalition steering committee. The primary goal is to have different groups and health organizations across the region "come up with some type of coordinated battle against what is a terrible disease", Beverly said. "We have some real problems here," he said. Reasons for the higher incidence of cancer and higher-than-average fatalities include a large number of smokers, overweight people and poor people, Beverly said. "One of the things it would be nice to do, and we would be able to do with increased resources, is to do research" on why cancer rates are higher in the area," said Paul Newell, Southwest Georgia District health director. Last year, 15-hundred Southwest Georgians died from cancer, and another 35-hundred were diagnosed with the disease.