College of Public Health students graduating

Public Health Faculty on Team Awarded $7 Million Grant to Address Lung Cancer

Faculty members from Kentucky’s College of Public Health, Dr. Robin Vanderpool, Dr. Kate Eddens, and Dr. Jennifer Redmond Knight, are on a team that recently received $7 Million in grant funding from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation as part of its Bridging Cancer Care initiative.  The project, named the Kentucky LEADS (Lung Cancer. Education. Awareness. Detection. Survivorship.) Collaborative, will work to reduce the burden of lung cancer in the state through an interdisciplinary approach involving community partners and cancer prevention and control experts.

The project, which is a first of its kind, will evaluate new approaches for discovering lung cancer in its earlier stages, so that the chance of survival is increased.  Another facet of the project will develop interventions that will improve the survivorship and quality of life for both individuals battling the disease and those caring for them.  The most common cancer worldwide and across the nation, lung cancer is especially devastating in Kentucky, where more cases of the disease occur than in any other state.  The mortality rate for lung cancer in Kentucky is almost 50 percent higher than the national average, with an estimated 3,500 lives expected to be lost this year alone.

“As Kentucky leads the nation in lung cancer mortality rates, we must step up to be a leader in finding solutions toward preventing, curing and coping with this destructive disease,” said Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear. “I strongly support this collaborative, wide-ranging effort as it coincides with this administration’s kyhealthnow goals of reducing statewide cancer and smoking rates by 10 percent in 2019.  By working together, we can and will find a way to diminish the burden of this crisis in Kentucky.”

The program has three components – provider education, survivorship program development, and promotion of early detection and evidence-based prevention.  Dr. Kate Eddens, Assistant Professor of Health Behavior in the College of Public Health, will be providing communication expertise for all components of the program, and is coordinating social media and website outreach. “One of the goals of the Kentucky LEADS Collaborative is to ensure that providers and eligible patients are able to bring knowledge and confidence to the discussion of whether lung cancer screening is right for each individual.  Given Kentucky’s mortality rate from lung cancer, even small improvements to early detection and survival will have a huge impact for the state,” explained Dr. Eddens.

The first component of the project, led by researchers from the Kentucky Cancer Program West and the University of Louisville, will work to develop a primary care provider continuing education program that specifically addresses quality lung cancer care.  The provider education program will emphasize diagnosis, treatment, behavior modifications such as tobacco cessation, and early detection.

The second component is led by Dr. Jamie Studts of the UK Department of Behavioral Science, with Dr. Robin Vanderpool, Assistant Professor of Health Behavior in the College of Public Health, working on his team.  This facet of the collaboration involves the development of a survivorship program that supports quality of life for those diagnosed with lung cancer, and for the family and friends who care for them, throughout their battle with the disease.  “Lung cancer survivorship issues among patients and their caregivers have not received the attention they deserve,” Dr. Vanderpool stated.  “Through this innovative and timely project, we hope to improve the quality of life and related outcomes of these individuals and their loved ones.”

The third piece of the project is led by Dr. Jennifer Knight, Research Assistant Professor in the College of Public Health’s Department of Health Management and Policy, and Dr. Timothy Mullett of the UK College of Medicine.  This team will work to increase prevention (tobacco treatment, secondhand smoke and radon) and high-quality screening for lung cancer, which is critical for reducing the mortality rate of the disease.  Because symptoms often emerge only after the disease has begun to spread, lung cancer is frequently diagnosed late, when the condition is too advanced for treatment to be effective.  Dr. Knight and her team will work on the promotion of early detection practices and evidence-based prevention in sites selected throughout the state of Kentucky.  Dr. Knight is excited by the potential for improvement that a collaborative effort can bring.  “We are looking forward to working collaboratively with sites across the state of Kentucky to develop and implement best practices in high-quality lung cancer prevention and screening,” she said.  “It’s time for Kentucky to no longer be number one in lung cancer.”

In addition to researchers from the University of Kentucky, other partners on the project include the Lung Cancer Alliance, the University of Louisville, the Kentucky Cancer Consortium, the Kentucky Clinical Trials Network, the Markey Cancer Foundation, and the Kentucky Cancer Foundation, as well as healthcare systems and community-based organizations across the state.

Updates on the Kentucky LEADS Collaborative will be available throughout the project at www.KentuckyLEADS.org, on Twitter at @KentuckyLEADS, through the Kentucky LEADS Collaborative Facebook page, and on Instagram at kentuckyleads.