Dr. James McGee is not sure why lung cancer rates are so high in Peoria County.
It could be the demographics of an older, historically working class population that came of age when smoking was acceptable.
“There are so many factors,” he says. “Personally, I think environmental factors have a role in cancer rates. It’s just extremely hard to prove.”
But what he knows bothers him.
The debate over expanding a local hazardous waste landfill prompted doctors at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center to look at local cancer rates. “The numbers were very disturbing,” says McGee, medical director of radiation oncology at St. Francis and chairman of the medical center’s cancer committee.
“Disturbing” is a word McGee uses frequently.
The occurrence of lung cancer in Tazewell and Peoria counties is much higher than the state average, higher even than the national average. The number of deaths related to lung cancer is just as bad — even worse — for African-Americans.
“If you look at the incidence rate for minority males
and the mortality rate, those numbers aren’t very different,” McGee says. “It looks like if you get lung cancer, you’re going to die from lung cancer.”
In comparison, both incidence and mortality rates for lung cancer in Cook County, home of Chicago, are lower than the state average or, in some cases, about the same as the state average, even for African-Americans.
“Cook County is a bad county, a hot spot for lung cancer. Our rates are considerably higher. For our size, our numbers are really disturbing,” says McGee.
But lung cancer doesn’t have to be fatal. It can be cured, according to McGee, if it’s diagnosed in the early stages.
He is part of a team undertaking a broad effort to control cancer’s spread while improving cancer’s treatment. The initiative grew out of “Spirit of Hope,” a fundraiser for cancer prevention, and grew into St. Francis’ new Comprehensive Lung Cancer Clinic.
The clinic is not so much a standing structure as it is a different approach in organizing the care and treatment of lung cancer.
The clinic began in July, the same month Kenneth Jacob’s wife, JoAnn, died of lung cancer.
Jacob, 78, is an easy-going talker who has no qualms showing off the sickle-shaped scar on his right side, the result of his own recent lung cancer surgery. The staff on the ground floor of St. Francis’ Forest Park Building, where the radiation oncology offices are located, still remember him.
“I just went through cancer with my wife,” Jacob says. “This time it was set up altogether different. They decided they would put all their heads together before they did anything to me.”
Jacob was diagnosed with lung cancer in mid-October. He had surgery on Nov. 29. From all appearances, he’s recovering well since surgeons removed three ribs and the upper two lobes of his right lung. On Christmas Day, he continued the family tradition of walking a mile right after dinner and just before dessert.
He recently started chemotherapy treatments and after that, he’ll undergo radiation treatments, all to assure the cancer doesn’t return.
His wife’s cancer was more aggressive than his. “Doctors told her up front hers was not fixable,” he says. Though she had been a heavy smoker, Jacob, a retired autobody mechanic, says he never smoked more than a few after-dinner cigars over a lifetime.
Jacob was raised in Deer Creek and now lives in Creve Coeur. His mother and a brother died of lung cancer. They were both heavy smokers, he says. Jacob is optimistic about his recovery.
“They think I’m going to be OK,” he says. “That’s what they keep telling me, and that’s what I’m going on. The surgeon says he’s sure he got it all.”
The approximate six weeks from his diagnosis to his surgery is one of the successes of the lung cancer clinic.
The national average from the time of diagnosis to the first treatment, whether surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, is roughly 90 to 120 days. The average for Jacob and some 70 other patients who have gone through the clinic is 15 to 20 days.
Whenever there’s a new patient, a team of cancer specialists, from pulmonologist to surgeon to radiologist and pathologist, meets at 7 a.m. on a Friday at the Forest Park building. While the patient waits outside, the doctors review his tests and decide, as a group, on the best course of action.
“With all their heads together at one time, they probably knew more about exactly how to treat me,” Jacob says.
The difference, explains Jodi Stoner, the nurse navigator assigned to clinic patients, is instead of the patient visiting three or four different specialists before a plan of treatment is determined, the doctors come together and the patients gets a response on the same day.
Coordinated care doesn’t stop there. Stoner, as her title implies, keeps the clinic on course. An advanced practice nurse, she’s the one who makes sure information flows between doctors and from doctor to patient. She makes sure patients keep appointments, and she’s the one patients can reach by telephone easily if they have questions or need help, including transportation, counseling or information about smoking cessation programs.
“I don’t usually follow them personally,” Stoner says. But, by telephone and computerized records, she knows when and where they have appointments.
Her role, along with the Friday morning meetings among specialists, fits well with healthcare reform’s emphasis on effective, efficient treatment.
“We’ve tried to eliminate a lot of wasted time,” McGee says.
St. Francis also offers affordable CT screenings for lung cancers. It’s part of an effort to catch lung cancer, which increases the chances of a cure and decreases a mortality rate McGee calls “disturbing.”
As part of efforts to reduce the incidence of lung cancer in central Illinois, OSF Saint Francis Medical Center now offers low-cost screenings for lung cancer.
The CT Lung Cancer Screening program follows people at risk of developing lung cancer for two years. Participants must undergo a low-dose CT scan each year. The goal is to diagnose lung cancer early, when it is most curable.
Current or former heavy smokers who smoke, or smoked, a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years would be an example of those at risk for lung cancer. To participate, they cannot have symptoms such as heavy cough or chest pains.
The cost, $200 for each screening, is not covered by health insurers.
For more information or to schedule a screening, call 624-5864.
Pam Adams can be reached at 686-3245 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally posted here:
OSF’s new lung cancer clinic speeds up treatment