Lung Cancer Program Shows Results

Posted by Samantha Powell on June 27th, 2013 |

El camino pilot speeds treatment; expanding nationally

By Ron Shinkman / June 27, 2013

A pilot program conducted at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View to speed treatment of lung cancer patients has proven so successful that it will be used by at least three other hospitals in the Southeast, East and Midwest.

The program, known as the 360 Community Hospital Program, is spearheaded by the San Carlos based Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation, It has also drawn interest from hospitals in California, officials said.

Although lung cancer is the deadliest form of the disease in the United States, killing more than 150,000 every year, it is very rarely detected in its earliest stages.

Initial symptoms are often confused with other respiratory ailments, and more traditional pieces of diagnostic equipment, such as xray machines, have difficulty detecting the disease.

Addario Foundation chief executive officer Scott Santarella said El Camino was chosen as a pilot project site in part because of its role as a community hospital. Such facilities diagnose and treat about 80% of all lung cancer patients.

“We’re trying to improve the overall standard of care,” Santarella said, and create lung cancer centers of excellence in the process.

The pilot program at El Camino focused on providing patients suspected of having the disease with molecular laboratory testing – an accurate diagnostic tool for cancer that is often underutilized because of its cost compared to other detection methods. Such tests can also be used to determine how a cancer patient will respond to specific forms of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Prior to the pilot program, about 20% of El Camino’s patients suspected of having lung cancer underwent molecular testing. Now all patients do, according to Danielle Hicks, Addario’s director of patient services and programs.

About 100 lung cancer patients are in the pilot, which began last November. Twenty-six percent have been diagnosed at stage 2B or lower, compared to 5% to 7% of patients being diagnosed at that stage nationwide. Patients with non-small cell cancer diagnosed at that stage have a 40% to 50% survival rate. The overall survival rate for the disease is about 15%.

“Pathology is a huge part of the program,” Hicks said.

Diagnosis to treatment time has been trimmed to 10 days, compared to the prior average of 45 days – a reduction of 77%. And nearly two-thirds of the patients undergo a tumor board review – something that rarely happens at a community hospital.

The program also encourages communication between all of the patient’s caregivers, including the surgeon, pulmonologist, radiation oncologist and any surgeons who might operate. A navigator is assigned to each patient – in the case of El Camino, it’s a social worker, but a registered nurse would also work well, according to Santarella.

Santarella estimated the cost of implementing the pilot was about $175,000. GE Healthcare helped design the program, with several other companies providing testing and financial support. Addario also prodded local doctors to make earlier referrals of suspected lung cancer patients with an advertising and email blast campaign.

The program will expand to hospitals in Atlanta, Boston, Florida and the Midwest later this year. Hicks noted that at least two facilities in California have also expressed an interest in the program.

The foundation projects lung cancer centers of excellence will be in at least 50 hospitals nationwide by 2015.

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