Summit Marks Start of Cancer Project

Contact: Louise DuPont

Photo of Alfred Cohen, Hal Rogers and Lee T. Todd Jr.
(l-r) Dr. Alfred Cohen, U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers and UK President Lee T. Todd Jr.

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Kentucky has the fourth highest cancer mortality rate in the nation.  It is estimated that more than 9,300 Kentuckians will die in 2004 from some sort of cancer.  Eastern Kentucky leads the state in deaths when it comes to liver, lung, and pancreatic cancers.

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 7, 2004) -- A summit at the Center for Rural Development in Somerset on Oct. 15 kicks off the Marty Driesler Lethal Cancer Project, which is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In February, U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers and UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. announced a unique health care initiative aimed at increasing the survival rates of people with deadly cancers throughout Kentucky’s 5th Congressional District. The UK Markey Cancer Center will partner with more than 200 physicians and health care providers in the district to establish a community outreach program of early detection, prevention and treatment for lung, pancreatic, liver and esophageal cancer.

A proponent of the project, Rogers said, "The purpose of the Marty Driesler Cancer Project is to increase early detection, improve the quality of treatment, and increase the survival rates for lethal cancers.” 

Kentucky has the fourth highest cancer mortality rate in the nation.  It is estimated that more than 9,300 Kentuckians will die in 2004 from some sort of cancer.  Eastern Kentucky leads the state in deaths when it comes to liver, lung, and pancreatic cancers. 

“These figures are staggering.  Our ultimate goal for this project is to help save the lives of as many Kentuckians as possible," said Rogers.

“The project is unusual; it involves reaching out to patients rather than waiting for them to come in for care,” said Dr. Alfred Cohen, director of the UK Markey Cancer Center. In addition, UK researchers and physicians will partner with doctors and others in the district to identify, screen and treat patients.

“This is something that really has not been done, where the university and cancer center go out into a community and work with all the committed (health care) groups and physicians in that area,” Cohen said.

Cohen said that UK already has expertise in many of the approaches and programs it will use in the area, which will allow the university to refine and apply them in a particular community.

Rogers makes it clear that UK Markey Cancer Center will be a valuable partner on this project. “The Markey Cancer Center is nationally recognized for its work and research in this area.  I'm thrilled that UK agreed to oversee the project.  We could not have picked a better organization,” said Rogers.

The Marty Driesler Lethal Cancers Project will target lung cancer and three other often fatal cancers – liver, pancreatic and esophageal. The project will approach each cancer based on its particular problems and characteristics.

When studying lung cancer, doctors will randomly select at-risk people from the district for screening measures. Cohen said UK wants to look not only at smokers but people at risk for other reasons, such as chronic lung disease or exposure to radon in their homes. The screening likely will involve spiral CT scans. Nationally, researchers are studying whether the scans, which allow for detection of much smaller tumors than standard x-rays, can detect cancer early enough to make a difference in survival rates. The project also will test participants’ blood and tissue to see if there are molecular markers pointing to cancer risk. A percentage of the participants in whom cancer is detected will be referred for “optimum treatment.”

To address esophageal cancer, UK will work with local gastroenterologists to identify patients with Barrett’s esophagus, a complication of acid reflux from the stomach into the esophagus and a risk factor for esophageal cancer, as well as other precancerous conditions. The project will develop a treatment program for Barrett’s esophagus as well as screening and treatment programs for esophageal cancer.

In dealing with liver cancer, doctors will use blood tests and ultrasounds to screen patients identified as having chronic active hepatitis or alcoholic cirrhosis, both of which are risk factors for liver cancer. The project also will develop a state-of-the-art treatment program for chronic active hepatitis and other risky conditions and recommend liver transplants for selected patients.

The project will attempt to enhance treatment for patients with pancreatic cancer by determining who may be eligible for surgery and referring them to the UK Markey Cancer Center or other pancreatic cancer centers of excellence. Overall, the project will put in place guidelines for state-of-the-art treatment and develop an effective quality-of-life assessment and intervention program for people with cancer from their diagnosis onward.

“The goal,” Cohen said, “is to set up a pilot program that actually can make a difference.”

Data from this project will be collected, processed and analyzed by the Kentucky Cancer Registry at the University of Kentucky. For more information on cancer rates of incidence and mortality by county in Kentucky please visit www.kcr.uky.edu.


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