U of L, UK join forces against lung cancer

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

Thumbnail for 9759By: Laura Ungar

From: courier-journal.com

Kentucky leads the nation in lung cancer cases and deaths, with a mortality rate nearly 50 percent above the national average.

Now, Gov. Steve Beshear said, “we must step up to be a leader in finding solutions toward preventing, curing and coping with this destructive disease.”

The universities of Kentucky and Louisville and the Lung Cancer Alliance announced Wednesday that they are forming the Kentucky LEADS Collaborative, a first-of-its-kind project that aims to find lung cancer earlier and improve the quality of life for patients and caregivers. It’s funded through a $7 million grant from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation.

“Lung cancer is such a big problem in Kentucky,” said Dr. Donald Miller, director of U of L’s James Graham Brown Cancer Center. “Our goal with this grant is to make sure Kentuckians get state-of-the-art care and that we deal with the survivors — because we’ve never really had survivors before and now we do.”

Lung cancer kills more than 3,500 Kentuckians, and 159,000 Americans, a year. It’s the nation’s deadliest cancer — taking more lives than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined. That’s partly because symptoms usually arise only after the disease has spread, meaning it’s often found too late. Experts say about half of patients diagnosed with lung cancer will die in a year, and only 16 percent will be alive after five years.

“The timing of diagnosis is critical,” said John Damonti, president of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation. “Early detection and treatment of lung cancer, combined with education and patient support, is key to increased survival for patients living with lung cancer.”

Kentucky LEADS, which stands for Lung cancer, Education, Awareness, Detection and Survivorship, has three major components. One is educating doctors and nurses, which involves reviewing practice patterns, referrals and treatment of lung cancer patients, and familiarizing those working in primary care with the best ways to care for patients with lung cancer and those at risk for the disease. Risk factors include, among others, smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke or radon. Kentucky has the nation’s highest adult smoking rate at around 28 percent.

Another component is to develop a lung cancer survivorship program to improve quality of life for people with lung cancer and their families throughout the course of the disease — addressing acute as well as long-term effects of the cancer and its treatment.

Nancy Alvey of Louisville, a 62-year-old lung cancer survivor diagnosed in 2005, said there isn’t enough support available for survivors now, partly because there are so few of them and partly because of a stigma that surrounds the disease because of its link to smoking.

“It’s time to start getting more survivors,” said Alvey, a grandmother of nine. “We’ve got to do the research. We’ve got to do the education.”

A third component of the effort is to promote prevention and early detection of lung cancer based on the latest scientific evidence. Lung cancer screening guidelines have recently changed, and this week, the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a draft decision memo to require Medicare to cover low-dose CT screening for lung cancer high-risk beneficiaries between 55 and 74 years old.

Laurie Fenton-Ambrose, president and chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C.-based Lung Cancer Alliance, said she hopes other states will follow Kentucky’s lead. “Such ‘can do’ attitude will not only lead to a first-ever coordinated plan of action to reduce lung cancer’s footprint in Kentucky, but will stimulate other states to follow in its shoes in the months ahead.”