The University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center released statistics Tuesday saying that it has a much higher rate of long-term survival for an array of cancers than Kentucky at large — and in some cases, higher rates than patients treated nationwide.
UK officials, including Dr. Mark Evers, director of the Markey Cancer Center, said that the numbers, collected from 1995 to 2007, are significant because Markey as an academic medical center often treats patients who have advanced or complex cancers.
Kentucky has the highest percentage of lung cancer cases in the United States and the second-highest percentage of colon cancer cases, Evers said. The colon cancer number is particularly frustrating because a colonoscopy can spot malignant polyps before the cancer spreads, he said.
But, he said, Kentucky had risen from 49th to 23rd in screening rates among states in a decade.
UK said its early screenings for cancer are yielding results.
Markey patients' five-year survival rates in eight categories including lung, ovarian, brain, prostate and Stage IV colorectal cancer are higher than those treated elsewhere in Kentucky. Markey patients with brain, liver, prostate and other cancers show higher five-year survival rates than patients treated nationwide.
The Markey Cancer Center will apply for cancer center designation by the National Cancer Institute in September 2012. There are 66 centers in the country that have that designation, none of them in Kentucky. If Markey is approved for the designation, it would then have additional funding and access to nationwide clinical trials along with additional community engagement opportunities, patient advisory groups and education and intervention programs.
For Suzi Shoemaker, the early screening made all the difference.
Shoemaker, 55, the owner of Lantern Hill Farm in Midway, found out about her ovarian cancer after one of Dr. John van Nagell's ovarian cancer screenings and was on the operating table soon after. Her cancer was in a very early stage, and after six rounds of chemotherapy, she turned her attention to helping others obtain early screenings themselves.
"I am the luckiest woman on the planet getting in that screening program," she said.
Now, she said, it's time to bring others in for the same life-saving experience she received: "This is my mission."
The Ovarian Cancer Screening Program, run by van Nagell, provides free cancer screenings to postmenopausal women older than 50, or older than 25 if those women have family histories of the disease.
Roger Samples. 61, of Mount Sterling had a more advanced lung cancer, and he was told when diagnosed elsewhere that he needed to find another health care provider for treatment.
He did his research, looking at cancer centers nationwide, including Houston's revered MD Anderson cancer center.
But he selected UK, Samples said, because he was told that he could get nation-beating quality close to home.
"Your greatest enemy with a diagnosis like that is fear," Samples said. "It was no cakewalk, but I didn't have the horrible times I'd feared."
Lung cancer is a difficult cancer for which to screen, said Dr. Ronald McGarry, a radiation oncologist. That makes it more difficult to treat, because it often isn't diagnosed early.
Samples said that he has gone from being dismissed because of his late-stage diagnosis to having hope for a future. He underwent two rounds of chemotherapy and 43 radiation treatments and is now considered in remission.
"They saved my life," he said of the Markey Cancer Center medical staff.
He credited McGarry and other Markey employees for explaining his treatment completely and answering whatever questions he and his family had.
McGarry said that despite the difficulty in making the diagnosis in some cases, lung cancer appears largely in smokers: "There is no substitution for smoking cessation," McGarry said when discussing early detection and treatment.
Whether CT scans catch lung cancer in time to save lives has been the subject of some discussion. Some studies question whether such scans merely trigger more surgery instead.
UK attributes its success in liver cancer treatment in part to its access to the UK Transplant Center, because in many cases the most successful treatment of that cancer will require a liver transplant.