In fact, nationally, lung cancer claims more lives each year than the next three deadliest cancers combined. It’s the number one cancer killer of men and women in the U.S. Yet most people would be hard-pressed to identify a lung cancer ribbon or recall the last time they joined a lung cancer walk. And there’s a reason for that.
“There’s no story right now,” Weaver says. “It is a disease that is so devastating it simply has few survivors, voices or advocates.”
Several years ago, the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation sought to turn the tide on outcomes for lung cancer patients in underserved regions throughout the U.S. Thus began the search for innovators with the goal of developing new strategies to improve lung cancer screening, care and support. The Foundation’s discussions with the Kentucky Cancer Consortium, Kentucky’s comprehensive cancer control program, catalyzed the creation of the Kentucky LEADS Collaborative. Weaver was among the first physicians to lend the group his support.
Kentucky LEADS addresses the full spectrum of lung cancer care. (LEADS stands for Lung Cancer Education, Awareness, Detection and Survivorship.) The three-year initiative, funded by the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation and moving into implementation now, is a partnership among the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville and the Lung Cancer Alliance.
“This program brings researchers, clinicians, university experts and local officials together to create a comprehensive program from early detection all the way through survivorship,” Weaver says. “This is a great program, one that we’ve needed for a long time.”
Kentucky LEADS has three main components: provider education; prevention and early detection; and survivorship care. Its programs aim to educate doctors about new tools and treatment options, empower and engage patients in their healthcare, and promote access to high-quality screenings that may create a whole new subset of patients: survivors.
“Screening is one of the biggest shifts in lung cancer care and control since 1964,” says Jamie Studts, principal investigator for Kentucky LEADS, citing the year of the U.S. Surgeon General’s groundbreaking report linking smoking and lung cancer. “We now have the hope of creating a large community of lung cancer survivors.”
By presenting a comprehensive approach that educates patients and engages them in managing their complex condition, Kentucky LEADS is creating a model that others could replicate. Connie White, deputy senior commissioner of clinical affairs for the Kentucky Department of Public Health and a member of the Kentucky LEADS Community Advisory Board, believes the program’s innovations could ripple out beyond Kentucky and even beyond lung cancer. This could drastically change the treatment of chronic disease, she says.
Progress in lung cancer detection and treatment has been, at best, incremental. The 1964 Surgeon General’s report was the first federal milestone. “At that time, the five-year survival rates for lung cancer were 13 percent,” Studts says. “We’re at 18 percent now.”