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December 11, 2020

ThedaCare Offers Tobacco Cessation Trial

As the month of November is known for being Lung Cancer Awareness Month, ThedaCare Cancer Care would like to continue the push for increased screening, recognizing the symptoms of lung cancer and information about treatment for those diagnosed.

Developed for Patients Diagnosed with Lung Cancer

December 11, 2020

APPLETON, Wis. – As the month of November is known for being Lung Cancer Awareness Month, ThedaCare Cancer Care would like to continue the push for increased screening, recognizing the symptoms of lung cancer and information about treatment for those diagnosed.

According to the American Cancer Society, anyone can get lung cancer, including people who smoke, who have quit, and those who have never smoked. This year, an estimated 228,820 new cases of lung cancer are expected and 135,720 lung cancer deaths.

“Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in men and women, accounting for one in four cancer deaths in the U.S.,” said William Conkright, MD, Oncologist/Hematologist at ThedaCare Regional Cancer Center. “What we need to do to reduce the number of lung cancer deaths is help people stop smoking, increase screening for those at high risk, recognize the symptoms and continue to invest in new treatment options.”

Regardless of whether you have ever smoked, the most common symptoms of lung cancer are:

  • A cough that does not go away or gets worse
  • Coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum (spit or phlegm)
  • Chest pain that is often worse with deep breathing, coughing or laughing
  • Hoarseness
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia that do not go away or keep coming back
  • New onset of wheezing

While nearly 80% of lung cancer deaths in the U.S. are thought to result from smoking, it can be diagnosed in anyone. About 25,000 people who have never smoked die of lung cancer each year.

“Lung cancer has long been linked to smoking,” explained Dr. Conkright. “Many times people avoid screenings and ignore the symptoms, which can possibly lead to an early diagnosis, because they feel they might be blamed for smoking and developing lung cancer. We do not want people to feel that way.”

Cessation Trial

According to the American Cancer Society, fewer people are smoking cigarettes and U.S. smoking rates have drastically dropped during the past several decades. However, there are still an estimated 34.2 million people in the U.S. who smoke.

“At ThedaCare, we thrive in being active participants in the search for new cancer treatments paradigms and participate in what we believe are actual game changers in the landscape of cancer treatment,” said Dr. Conkright. “We believe that the research of today will set the new standards of care for the future.”

Because of that dedication to advancing treatment options, ThedaCare Cancer Care, through research partners, is participating in a smoking cessation clinical trial. This randomized clinical trial involved two different groups of patients who are diagnosed with lung cancer and are currently using tobacco products. The first group receives enhanced care which advises they stop tobacco use and refers them to a National Cancer Institute Quitline. The second group refers patients to virtual tobacco cessation coaching for video conferencing intervention.

The trial itself has adapted to the COVID-19 environment. The implementation of a virtual meetings can be done through a computer, tablet or smartphone and is managed through a secure platform.

“In the spirit of adapting to changes during the pandemic, and finding new ways to deliver world class medical care to our community, we are pleased to be part of a national clinical trial designed to implement a virtual tobacco treatment option, while following public health recommendations to avoid the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Conkright.

The trial is designed to last six months and includes 11 virtual sessions that consists of weekly, bi-weekly and monthly meetings.

“In the journey to discontinuing the use of tobacco products, we know that support plays an extremely important role,” said Conkright. “The more a person feels a connection to others, where they can share successes, advice and a mutual understanding of what it takes to stop using tobacco, the better the outcomes. And we are very proud to offer this trial to our patients who are willing to take part.”

Patient Success

Patty Wiest has tried everything to quit smoking – patches, lozenges, acupuncture, even hypnotism. Nothing worked until September 2020.

“I’ve been smoke free since September 21,” said Wiest. “I’ve smoked for nearly 40 years, and I’m proud to say that is no longer the case.”

In August 2020, Wiest was diagnosed with lung cancer which was detected after a yearly scan. She’s doing well after surgery, and attributes much of her success to the smoking cessation clinical trial she is taking part in through ThedaCare.

“Honestly, my diagnosis scared the living daylights out of me,” she said. “And that’s what it took to get me to quit.”

Wiest meets virtually with a counselor. They discuss recommendations like breathing and avoiding old habits that Wiest can use to continue to be smoke free. 

“I just log into the meeting through my computer,” she said. “And it’s like we’re talking face-to-face. The support I have from my counselor, my husband and family has made all the difference. I could not have done it without them.”

She has advice for others who might be faced with a lung cancer diagnosis and the need to quit smoking.

“As long as you want it, you can do it,” she said. “I’ve been there, and tried everything. Seek out the help, and you can be successful.”

Center of Excellence

In November of 2019, ThedaCare Cancer Care officially launched work to develop and complete five Tumor Site-Specific Centers of Excellence (CoE). Those CoEs compliment the Breast Cancer Center of Excellence that has been in place for more than a decade. An additional Center is focused on lung cancer.

“The goal of becoming a Center of Excellence is to streamline, standardize and expedite the diagnosis and treatment of all lung cancer patients in the region,” said Donna Boehm, director of ThedaCare Cancer Care. “The ThedaCare lung cancer program is a multidisciplinary group that includes medical oncology, radiation oncology, surgery, radiology, pathology, pulmonology and support services, with specialists located throughout the Fox Valley. It demonstrates our commitment to providing the best cancer care services to those living in Northeast and Central Wisconsin.”

Components of the Lung Cancer Center of Excellence include:

Lung Screening Program 

The goal of lung cancer screening through low-dose CT scan is to enable detection of cancer before it has spread. Treatment can then be provided. ThedaCare started this program in 2018. During the first year, 1,300 patients were screened. Criteria for screening includes:

  • Age 55 to 77
  • History of tobacco use of at least 30 pack years
  • Currently smoking or have quit within the last 15 years

Lung Nodule Clinic

The creation of a lung nodule clinic serves patients with suspicious findings identified on imaging. This clinic is located at Fox Valley Pulmonary Medicine and is in partnership with the ThedaCare Cancer Care. 

Lung Nurse Navigator

Lung navigators are available to help patients navigate the system and coordinate their care, from time of cancer diagnosis through treatment into survivorship. 

“These are just three aspects of recent programming implementations to improve screening, early detection and treatment of patients with lung cancer,” said Boehm. “Additional developments include the creation of a Lung Cancer Tumor Board, clinical trials and more. All of the work we do is aimed at providing coordinated care for our patients.”

The American Cancer Society recommends yearly screening with a low-dose CT scan for people at higher risk for lung cancer. Screening can detect lung cancer early, when treatment is more likely to be effective and save lives. If you currently smoke or previously quit, are age 55 or older, and in fairly good health, talk to your health care provider about your risk for lung cancer, what to expect from screening, and if screening is a good option.

“There have been many, many advancements made in the treatment of lung cancer,” explained Dr. Conkright. “Early detection, trials and new treatments – all are helping those diagnosed with lung cancer live longer, and we are proud to support those efforts.”