Rallying primary care physicians to refer high-risk patients to lung screening program — it saves lives

St. Elizabeth is committed to leading Northern Kentucky to become one of the healthiest communities in America.

As part of this initiative, St. Elizabeth is making waves as a leader in the lung cancer screening field. This nationally-recognized program is one of the ways St. Elizabeth is flipping the script on the alarming lung cancer rates in the state of Kentucky, focusing efforts on a coordinated, proactive lung cancer screening for at-risk patients.

Dr. Michael Gieske

Dr. Michael Gieske, Primary Care Physician at St. Elizabeth, has been instrumental in rallying primary care physicians to support and refer high-risk patients to the Lung Cancer Screening Program.

“I knew that if we could get primary care to see the importance and innovation of this program, we could truly make a difference in the lives of our patients,” says Dr. Gieske. “My goal is to encourage, inspire, educate and recruit primary care providers to establish a flourishing and sustainable Lung Cancer Screening program.”

The efforts of the entire multidisciplinary Lung Cancer Screening team speaks for itself: the program is currently performing approximately 400 low-dose CT lung cancer screens of at-risk patients per month. Notable facts include:

  More than six out of ten lung cancer patients live five years or longer if diagnosed early at Stage 1.

  Less than one out of ten lung cancer patients survive five or more years if diagnosed later at Stage 4.

  The program detects a new lung cancer in about one in every 70 screening scans. More than 60% of 
these are in Stage 1. By finding these tumors at an earlier stage (Stage I or II), St. Elizabeth is seeing a “stage migration” shift that significantly increases chances of survival and has the potential to change the script for cancer patients throughout the region.

  Since the program’s inception in 2013, 100 lung cancers have been found, with the majority being in an early stage when the cure rate is high.

  To date, more than 6,500 low-dose CT lung screenings have been performed on eligible patients, far exceeding the national average screening rate.

“As a community healthcare system, it’s extraordinary to deliver those results,” says Dr. Royce Calhoun, Medical Director of Thoracic Surgery at St. Elizabeth. “Shifting the stages means we can save so many more lives. Stage 1 lung cancer is very curable – it has over a 90% cure rate – but stage 4 is difficult.”

Catching lung cancer early is key.

The lung cancer screening is a low-dose CT scan with no IV and is for patients between the ages of 55-77 who have a pack a day history of 30+ years, is a current smoker or has quit in the last 15 years. The low-dose CT scan at St. Elizabeth is quick, easy and painless, and the radiation dose is minimal. If the screening shows any suspicious nodules (lumps in the lung), it is reviewed by the lung nodule board, comprised of radiologists, pulmonologists and thoracic surgeons to determine next steps.

Dr. Royce Calhoon

If a tumor is deemed to be suspicious for cancer, the recommendation may be to pursue further workup. During the work-up, a patient’s case may be presented to the Thoracic Oncology Multidisciplinary Tumor Board. This board consists of radiologists, pulmonologists, thoracic surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists, pathologists, other physicians and nurses who all work together and bring their collective expertise to determine the best work-up and treatment plan for each patient.

“From screening to diagnosis through staging and treatment options – including clinical trial options – we are very proud of our robust and refined Lung Cancer Screening program,” says Dr. Calhoun.

“Kentucky has the highest rates of lung cancer and the worst lung cancer survival rate in the country. We’re in a position to make a difference and turn those stats right around.”

The St. Elizabeth Lung Cancer Screening program has received local, national and international recognition. Recent highlights include attending and/or presenting the program’s notable accomplishments at:

 The National Conference on Lung Cancer (NCLC) in Toronto, ON; September 2018.
 The National Lung Cancer Round Table in Washington, DC; December 2018.

 The Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network (MCCAN) Conference in Lexington, KY.; October 2018.

 The Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC) in Phoenix, AZ.; October 2018.

“Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in the country, far more than other cancers that receive more attention,” says Dr. Gieske. “We are advocates for this low-dose CT screening measure, as well as any other innovative approaches that make a difference in the lives of our patients and their families.”

The screening is available at one of the six St. Elizabeth locations accredited by the American College of Radiology (ACR): Ft. Thomas, Edgewood, Covington, Florence, Hebron and Grant County.

To determine if you are a candidate for a low-dose lung screening CT, talk with your primary care physician or visit stelizabeth.com/lung.

St. Elizabeth Healthcare

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