Owensboro Health joins Markey Affiliate Network

Owensboro Health has joined the UK Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network, enhancing cancer care available to patients in Western Kentucky and Southern Indiana and allowing them to stay closer to home and their support systems for most treatments.

Markey is the only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in Kentucky.

“Owensboro Health exists to heal the sick and to improve the health of the communities we serve,” said Owensboro Health President and CEO Greg Strahan. “When it comes to offering national-quality, outstanding cancer care, we are proud to team up with the UK Markey Cancer Center, which is recognized as one of the foremost cancer care and research centers in the nation.”

Owensboro Health’s Mitchell Memorial Cancer Center (MMCC) serves the health system’s coverage area, a population of nearly 400,000 people across 14 counties in Western Kentucky and Southern Indiana. More than 1,000 patients are treated at the center annually. Last year, Owensboro Health also joined Markey’s Research Network, which allows MMCC to run many of Markey’s clinical trials on-site.

“As a native of Owensboro, it is a great honor to welcome Owensboro Health as our newest UK Markey Cancer Center Affiliate,” said Dr. Mark Newman, UK executive vice president for health affairs. “These relationships are very important to both of our institutions and most significantly to the care of patients throughout the region and the Commonwealth. We look forward to continuing to work with the outstanding team at Owensboro to provide the highest level of cancer treatment and prevention measures.”

The UK Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network was created to provide high-quality cancer care closer to home for patients across the region and to minimize the effects of cancer through prevention and education programs, exceptional clinical care, and access to research. The affiliate network is especially important for Kentucky, where cancer rates are the highest in the nation.

“Kentucky is home to some of the worst cancer rates in the country,” said Dr. Tim Mullett, medical director of the UK Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network. “Collaborating with our affiliate hospitals across the state will enable us to make a positive impact on the dire cancer rates here in the Commonwealth.”

Markey is one of only 69 medical centers in the country to earn an NCI cancer center designation. Because of the designation, Markey patients have access to new drugs, treatment options and clinical trials offered only at NCI centers.

Moving forward, the UK Markey Cancer Center is working toward the next tier of designation – an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. Currently, 45 of the 69 NCI-designated cancer centers in the country hold a comprehensive cancer center status. The UK Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network will play a large role in bringing that next level of cancer funding to Kentucky.

The affiliate network was created in 2006 and is made up of 20 hospitals across the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Next steps:

  • Markey is Kentucky’s only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, providing world-class cancer care right here in the Commonwealth. Learn more about why patients choose Markey for their cancer treatment.
  • Markey’s new state-of-the-art cancer care floor will allow our care teams to treat more patients with complex cancer diagnoses in an environment specifically designed for healing.

New year, new goals for UK grad student and cancer survivor

Meg Gravil has a few major goals for 2018. She wants to continue to build her level of fitness, and she plans to finish her dissertation by the end of the year.

But most importantly, Gravil wants to remain cancer-free.

As a UK College of Education graduate student studying interdisciplinary early childhood education, Gravil finished her qualifying exams in spring 2015 and began working on her dissertation. But just a few months later, her life ground to a halt.

After a regular annual exam, she was called back for a diagnostic mammogram and then a biopsy. Shortly after, she got a phone call from the UK Markey Cancer Center.

Diagnosis and recurrence

“I was sitting home on a Friday afternoon, and I had just five minutes to walk to go get my daughter from school,” Gravil said. “The phone rang. It was a nurse at Markey, and she said, ‘The results are positive. You have cancer.’”

The news came as a shock to Gravil, who was only 43 years old at the time and had no family history of breast cancer. She chose to have a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction, performed in separate surgeries by UK’s Dr. Patrick McGrath and Dr. Brian Rinker.

“For peace of mind, I thought, take it all,” Gravil said.

Although the entire breast is removed during a mastectomy, the surgery isn’t a guarantee that the patient will remain cancer-free. Breast cancer can still return to the chest wall or nearby lymph nodes, known as locoregional recurrence, and an estimated 5 to 10 percent of women who undergo a mastectomy will experience a recurrence.

For Gravil, all was well at first. But just a few months later, she noticed a nodule that continued to get larger and redder. After having several doctors examine it, she received the bad news: The breast cancer had returned.

“I was absolutely stunned,” she said. “It was worrisome, because the recurrence was so soon after my initial diagnosis. The biggest part of that was thinking about my daughter – what if something happens to me? What effect will that have on my daughter’s life?”

Just one year after her initial surgery, Gravil was back in the operating room for surgery to remove the new tumor and install a port for chemotherapy. Chemo came next, and then radiation. The second time around, Gravil said, she was determined to do whatever it took to beat the disease. When her hair began falling out, she hosted a head-shaving party in her backyard with family and friends.

“The first time I was diagnosed, I was worried about losing my hair,” she said. “The second time, that was an afterthought – it was just, ‘I’ll do whatever I need to do to kick this thing.’”

Aiding recovery with exercise

While undergoing treatment at Markey, Gravil chose to participate in several programs at the UK Integrative Medicine & Health Clinic, including jin shin jyutsu and narrative medicine. Through Integrative Medicine & Health, she learned about LIVESTRONG at the YMCA, a free 12-week exercise program offered to cancer survivors. While attending Markey’s Expressions of Courage survivorship event last June, Gravil spoke with Corey Donohoo, director of community health at the Y, and decided to start the program in July.

Some of the most common side effects of cancer treatment include fatigue and weakness. Through the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program, the certified trainers help survivors build up their strength and endurance based on their individual assessment and goals.

“At the beginning and end of the program, we do functional assessments, and we’re likely to see improvement,” Donohoo said. “But what’s really rewarding is to hear the stories of what these participants are able to do because of the program, like playing with their kids or grandkids, getting up and down, running errands, and more.”

Although Gravil is relatively active – she enjoys being outdoors and hiking – she hadn’t participated in any regular exercise routine in decades. Through the program, she got the opportunity to try a number of new fitness modalities, from learning to use the equipment on the floor of the gym, to TRX, yoga and Pilates Reformer.

And last September, she discovered that she was stronger than she realized, when she scaled a rock wall during a mother-daughter retreat at Life Adventure Center in Versailles. However, her newfound strength isn’t the only thing she’s gained.

“The big component wasn’t just feeling physically stronger and getting stamina back,” Gravil said. “The mental health and psychological benefits were really great for me.”

Regular exercise (and by extension, weight management) plays a significant role in maintaining the well-being of cancer survivors, according to Gravil’s oncologist at Markey, Dr. Aju Mathew. During treatment, it can help patients better tolerate their therapy. After completion of their treatment, it will improve functional capacity and promote healing.

Additionally, Mathew says, exercise may offer some protective benefits for survivors.

“There is increasing evidence that regular exercise can reduce the risk for cancer recurrence, as well,” Mathew said. “Overall, exercise and fitness training is a win-win for persons with a history of cancer.”

Looking forward

Throughout her journey, she says she’s been happy and confident in the care she received from her Markey physicians, nurses and staff.

“I was really impressed with the time that they took with me during my appointments,” she said. “I never felt like I was being rushed off – they answered all my questions to my satisfaction.”

With life more settled, Gravil already has momentum for her first two 2018 goals. She continues to go to the YMCA (Pilates Reformer is now her favorite class), and has begun the research and writing for her dissertation. If she finishes in December, she can walk to receive her PhD in special education next May.

And with her treatments at Markey complete – she finished her last dose of Herceptin in December – Gravil is looking forward to maintaining that most important goal of all.

Next steps:

  • Markey is Kentucky’s only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, providing world-class cancer care right here in the Commonwealth. Learn more about why patients choose Markey for their cancer treatment.
  • Watch our Making the Rounds post featuring breast cancer specialist Dr. Aju Mathew, where he tells us about his newest hobby and which historical figure he most admires.
UK HealthCare's 2017 Year in Review

A few of our favorite stories from 2017 that you might have missed

2017 was a year to remember for all of us here at UK HealthCare.

Before we look ahead to 2018, here are a few of our favorite stories from the past year that you might have missed.

Second-grade teacher returns to the classroom after leukemia treatment at Markey

Markey Cancer Center success story, Erika Carter on Tuesday May 9, 2017. Photo by Mark Cornelison | UKphotoA regular checkup revealed that Erika Carter’s white blood cell count was low. Within a few months, she was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia. With help from the UK Markey Cancer Center and Dr. Gerhard Hildebrandt, the Versailles second-grade teacher conquered her leukemia diagnosis and got back in the classroom. Read Erika’s story.

‘I feel so much better’: Gill helps 70-year-old woman conquer lifelong heart problems

After a fever damaged her heart as a young child, Priscilla Riley, now 70, had battled heart problems her entire life. For decades, she managed her symptoms, but earlier this year, things took a turn for the worse. That’s when Riley came to the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute and met Dr. Andrew Leventhal, who had an idea to help her feel better. Read Priscilla’s story.

After hip surgery at UK, triathlete gets back in the race

When Patty Lane was diagnosed with arthritis in her hip, she was told her time as a competitive triathlete was over. Not willing to give up on her dreams, Patty turned to UK Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine for a second opinion. Read Patty’s story and find out how UK helped her keep pursuing.

‘I can’t imagine a better place to be,’ says UK heart patient

By the time he was 13, Jason Conn had undergone three open-heart surgeries to repair a congenital heart defect. Although he was able to enjoy a normal life with few health problems, his childhood condition became a concern once again in adulthood. That’s when he turned to the experts at the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute. Read Jason’s story on our blog.

Pediatric surgeon tells little Connor’s story of hope

After being born prematurely and dealing with a series of complications, Connor Stacy had less than a 50 percent chance of survival. That’s when Kentucky Children’s Hospital pediatric surgeon Dr. Ana Ruzic and her team sprang into action to save Connor’s life. Read Dr. Ruzic’s account of Connor’s journey.

UK HealthCare named the No. 1 hospital in Kentucky – again!

No. 1 hospital in KentuckyIn August, we were thrilled to announce that UK Chandler Hospital was once again named the No. 1 hospital in Kentucky by U.S. News & World Report! Four specialties – Neurology & Neurosurgery, Cancer, Geriatrics and Diabetes & Endocrinology – ranked in the top 50 nationwide. Learn more about this exciting recognition.

Next steps:

Markey earns Outstanding Achievement Award from Commission on Cancer

The UK Markey Cancer Center is one of 16 accredited cancer programs nationwide to receive the 2017 Outstanding Achievement Award from the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer (CoC).

Established in 2004, the award was created to “recognize cancer programs that strive for excellence in demonstrating compliance with the Commission on Cancer standards and are committed to high-quality cancer care,” according to the organization.

“I’m incredibly proud of the efforts our physicians, nurses, and other medical staff put in on a daily basis,” said Dr. Mark Evers, director of Markey. “This latest national award is another recognition of the hard work that goes on here, and the top-tier care we’re able to offer patients from the Commonwealth and beyond.”

The purpose of the award is to encourage cancer programs to raise the bar on quality cancer care, with the ultimate goal of increasing awareness about high quality, patient-centered care. In addition, the award:

  • Recognizes those cancer programs that achieve excellence meeting the CoC Standards.
  • Motivates other cancer programs to work toward improving their level of quality cancer care.
  • Facilitates dialogue between award recipients and healthcare professionals at other cancer facilities for the purpose of sharing best practices.
  • Encourages honorees to serve as quality care resources to other cancer programs.

Markey’s cancer program was evaluated on 34 program standards categorized within five cancer program activity areas: program management, clinical services, continuum of care services, patient outcomes and data quality. The cancer program was further evaluated on seven commendation standards. To be eligible, all award recipients must have received commendation ratings in all seven commendation standards, in addition to receiving a compliance rating for each of the 27 other standards.

Earlier this year, U.S. News & World Report named Markey one of the top 50 cancer programs in the nation. Additionally, Markey received a prestigious National Cancer Institute designation in 2013 and is up for renewal of this designation in 2018.

Next steps:

Markey collaboration bringing broadband access and better cancer care to Appalachia

The UK Markey Cancer Center is joining a national collaboration that will help bridge the broadband connectivity gap to improve the lives of cancer patients in Appalachia.

The Federal Communications Commission’s Connect2Health Task Force has announced that the FCC and the National Cancer Institute have joined forces, signing a memorandum of understanding that will focus on how increasing broadband access and adoption in rural areas can improve the lives of rural cancer patients. As an inaugural project under the memorandum of understanding, the agencies have convened a public-private collaboration that includes Markey to help bridge the broadband health connectivity gap in Appalachia, taking another concrete step toward closing the digital divide.

“Kentucky leads the nation in cancer incidence, and it’s our responsibility here at UK and the Markey Cancer Center to help reduce the burdens of cancer on our citizens,” said Robin Vanderpool, associate professor in the UK College of Public Health and director of Community Outreach and Engagement at Markey.

“This collaboration will allow us to connect an underserved population to resources that can help patients manage the symptoms that accompany cancer treatment and beyond, ultimately leading to an improved quality of life.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans living in rural areas are still more likely to die of cancer than their counterparts in urban settings, which sets them apart from the many communities nationwide that have experienced a 20 percent decrease in cancer mortality over the past two decades. Initial analysis of broadband data and cancer data shows that these rural “cancer hotspots” also face major gaps in broadband access and adoption, often putting promising connected care solutions far out of reach.

In Appalachia, the cancer picture is bleaker than in other rural parts of the country. Research from University of Virginia School of Medicine has shown that between 1969 and 2011, cancer incidence declined in every region of the country except rural Appalachia, and mortality rates soared.

“The quality, length and even value of life should not be determined by where you happen to be born or live,” said Michele Ellison, chair of the Connect2HealthFCC Task Force.

“And yet that’s exactly what’s happening.  Nowhere is this more acutely felt than in the rural parts of our country. Too many rural Americans suffer with late cancer diagnoses, unrelenting symptoms, and inadequate access to care.”

The project – titled L.A.U.N.C.H. (Linking & Amplifying User-Centered Networks through Connected Health): A Demonstration of Broadband-Enabled Health for Rural Populations in Appalachia – will target areas that face the dual challenge of higher cancer mortality rates and lower levels of broadband access. The initial geographic focus is planned for rural Kentucky. Highlighting the power of public-private collaborations, current project stakeholders include cancer experts, researchers, technologists and industry representatives from Markey, the University of California, San Diego’s Design Lab and Amgen.

 “Increasingly, broadband-enabled technologies are transforming the way cancer patients and survivors better manage, monitor, and treat their symptoms – helping them to live longer, better quality lives,” Ellison said. “But for rural Americans with limited access to broadband, many of these connected care solutions are unavailable. Better connectivity holds the promise of bringing first class care and treatment to anyone, anywhere.”

Additional information about the FCC-NCI memorandum and the broadband health demonstration project will be available online at Information about “critical need” counties at the intersection of broadband and health is available at

Next steps:

Markey 11th floor

Markey unveils new state-of-the-art cancer care floor in Pavilion A

The UK Markey Cancer Center on Friday unveiled its new inpatient floor on the 11th floor of the UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital Pavilion A. The state-of-the-art facility will allow the care teams at Markey to treat more patients with complex cancer diagnoses in an environment specifically designed for healing.

The new floor has a unit in each tower: Tower 100 houses the James and Gay Hardymon Patient Care Unit, a 31-bed unit for medical and surgical oncology patients. Tower 200 is home to the Darley Blood and Marrow Transplantation Unit, a 32-bed unit for bone marrow transplant and patients with blood cancers. Between the two units, eight total new cancer inpatient beds have been added.

“For more than 30 years, Markey has been providing exceptional cancer care to the citizens of Kentucky, and our patient volume has increased dramatically in the past several years,” said Markey Director Dr. Mark Evers. “This is the first time we’ve been able to expand clinical care into new space. We are thrilled to open up this state-of-the-art facility for our inpatients, which has been specifically designed to cater to the needs of our patients and staff alike.”

Don’t miss the video tour and photo gallery of the new floor at the end of this blog!

Comfortable and functional

The new rooms are substantially larger in size than those on the previous Markey inpatient floors: All patient rooms in Pavilion A are private and nearly 300 square feet in size. Large windows provide natural light and outdoor views, an important factor for patients who may require lengthy inpatient stays for complex cancers.

“Some of our patients may stay between 20 and 40 days as an inpatient,” said Dr. Gerhard Hildebrandt, division chief of hematology and blood and marrow transplant for Markey. “The new floor lets patients feel more at home. If you’re away from your family and you undergo such aggressive treatment, it’s important that you have an environment where you feel very comfortable.”

The new floor was designed with functionality in mind: Markey’s highly trained and experienced nursing staff gave input on the layout of the floor based on their personal experiences and feedback from their patients. Each patient room is equipped with a nurse work station right outside the door, minimizing time spent away from the patient’s bedside.

“Our nurses are with these patients 24 hours a day, so they truly are the backbone of inpatient care,” said Colleen Swartz, UK HealthCare’s chief nurse executive and chief administrative officer. “Their recommendations for the creation of this floor were invaluable and have allowed us make Markey’s already stellar quality of care even more patient- and family-centered.”

The floor is also set up to facilitate the multidisciplinary approach to care, with extra spaces allowing for specialists and team members from a wide variety of areas to meet and discuss each individual patient as a team.

“Our nursing staff – who are exceptional in understanding what these patients are facing – will work with numerous specialties to ensure multidisciplinary care,” said Dr. Lowell Anthony, division chief of medical oncology at Markey. “Bringing it together is what it’s really about. Good communication among all parties creates an environment where we can heal our patients more efficiently and get them home quickly.”

Floor features

Patients on the new floor will have access to both oncology rehabilitation and integrative medicine services, including pet therapy, art therapy, music therapy, narrative medicine and much more. Additionally, the two units have features unique to Pavilion A, catering to the specific needs of cancer patients who require an inpatient stay:

  • The family suite, a hotel-style room that is connected to a patient room, allowing loved ones to literally live right next door to the patient throughout their stay. This room can be booked for a nominal fee.
  • The Family Comfort Center, a living room-style space designed by Markey patients that provides an area for families to gather, talk and take a break from the clinical space.
  • The business center, a quiet space that houses four workstations and two private offices for patients or loved ones to keep up with work or other responsibilities during their stay.
  • Concierge kitchen, opening in spring 2018, featuring an on-call chef who will offer meals that are beneficial to oncology patients and allow them access to healthy snacks and smoothies throughout the day. Additionally, two family kitchens are available for patients and their family members to prepare their own meals.
  • Several lead-lined patient rooms allowing for certain radiation procedures to be safely performed without the need to transport the patient to another location.
  • Laundry facilities for patient and family use.

Since receiving a National Cancer Institute designation in 2013, Markey has grown tremendously with around 3,300 inpatient visits a year. Overall analytic cancer cases are up 34 percent in the past five years. And in just the past three years, bone marrow transplants have increased from 80-85 performed each year to more than 110 in the past year.

“Having an NCI-designated cancer center allows patients across the whole state to have access to the very best, and Markey is a destination for people who need complex care,” said Dr. Mark Newman, executive vice president for health affairs. “With the new Markey inpatient floor, we’re trying to create the kind of environment where people can come, receive treatment and heal. It’s an environment where both the family and the patient can feel very hopeful about the potential outcomes of their treatments.”

‘A higher level of care’

Although the physical space is brand new, the most critical component of cancer care remains the same: the faculty and staff.

Markey patient Sarah Lister was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in early 2016 and spent more than four months combined as an inpatient at Markey under the care of Hildebrandt, ultimately receiving a bone marrow transplant.

She notes that for incoming patients, the new floor provides a warm, welcoming environment full of light and artwork, complementing the already stellar medical care patients can expect to receive.

“The bricks and mortar are not the most essential thing,” Lister said. “Because the staff is key – it’s the people that are the healing, the medicine comes first. But when you’re bringing all those people into this beautiful new space, I think you’re aiming for a higher level of care. This space is honoring the good work that goes on here.”

Next steps

Markey receives NCI grant to expand tobacco cessation treatment

The UK Markey Cancer Center is one of 22 cancer centers nationwide to receive funding to build and implement tobacco cessation treatment programs via the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Center Cessation Initiative.

In 2017, NCI launched the Cancer Center Cessation Initiative as part of the NCI Cancer Moonshot℠ program. Through this initiative, Markey will receive $253,000 over the next year to help enhance the delivery of tobacco cessation treatments through four major efforts:

  • Refining electronic medical records and clinical workflows to ensure the systematic identification and documentation of smokers and the routine delivery of evidence-based tobacco cessation treatment services.
  • Overcoming patient, clinician, clinic and health system barriers to providing tobacco cessation treatment services.
  • Achieving institutional buy-in that treating tobacco use is a component of organizational “Standard of Care.”
  • Creating mechanisms to sustain tobacco cessation treatment services so that they continue beyond the funding period of the initiative.

Kentucky has more cases of lung cancer than any other state, and its mortality rate is 50 percent higher than the national average. Though other environmental factors play a part in the development of lung cancer, smoking and other uses of tobacco are the root cause of the disease.

“This grant award provides the means for Markey to embark on a clinically important, two-pronged approach to tobacco treatment, one that includes both provider education and patient care,” said Jessica Burris, assistant professor of psychology in the UK College of Arts & Sciences and member of the Markey Cancer Prevention and Control program.

“The goal is to quickly and reliably assess the tobacco use status of each and every patient, and to deliver evidence-based cessation treatment to all tobacco users. With this initiative, the promise of a marked, positive impact on the lives of Markey patients is clear because tobacco treatment is cancer treatment.”

Next steps:

Dr. Jonathan Kiev answers questions about lung cancer.

Got questions about lung cancer? Dr. Jonathan Kiev has answers.

Dr. Jonathan Kiev

Dr. Jonathan Kiev

Written by Dr. Jonathan Kiev, a cardiothoracic surgeon at UK HealthCare.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, so now’s a great time for me to answer some common questions about the disease.

Lung cancer is a major problem in Kentucky. Unfortunately, our state leads the nation in both lung cancer incidence and deaths.

The good news is people who are at high risk for lung cancer – specifically, those who have a history of smoking – are eligible to undergo low-dose CT screening for the disease. This diagnostic test allows us to find lung cancer at a much earlier stage, giving us more time to potentially provide life-saving treatments. Even better news? The UK Markey Cancer Center has a Lung Cancer Screen Program for patients at high risk.

So, who’s at risk for lung cancer and what causes the disease?

First and foremost, if you smoke, seek help to quit.

Smoking is by far the No. 1 cause of lung cancer, and it causes head and neck cancers, too. It’s responsible for a variety of health problems not seen in non-smokers. In addition, hypertension and peripheral vascular disease are directly related to smoking, which is why getting on a nicotine cessation program is the first step.

(Related: Check out our tips for conquering a smoking addiction.)

Your doctor will take into account your current health and health history to decide if you are at risk for lung cancer. They will then order the appropriate blood tests and imaging (chest X-ray and CT scan) to see if you have developed early signs of the disease.

Can working in a coal mine or around asbestos cause lung cancer?

Any inhaled substance or chemical can cause lung cancer over repeated exposure, so the short answer is yes.

More importantly, exposure to these types of substances in high-risk professions can lead to other chronic lung illnesses as well. Patients in these professions need to be followed by specialists who understand their occupational risks and hazards.

What is lung cancer staging?

Staging is a way for your physician to determine the type of lung cancer that you have, and whether it has spread to your lymph nodes or to other organs.

Lung cancer can spread to the brain, bones and the adrenal gland. These are all treatable areas, but we like to catch the tumor as early as possible. Staging allows physicians to determine which therapy is best for you: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of those. Additionally, your prognosis and risk of recurrence are linked to cancer stage.

How is lung cancer treated?

There are different options to treat lung cancer, so it’s important for you and your family to seek second opinions and find a physician who understands your priorities.

Surgery is best used for early-stage tumors that are smaller, but we can also perform successful operations for larger tumors that have spread to the chest wall. Radiation is available to patients that are not interested in or are not healthy enough to recover from a major chest surgery.

How is lung cancer surgery performed?

Thoracic surgeons specialize in the latest oncology techniques to successfully perform lung cancer surgery.

Typically, surgeons use small incisions and a camera to remove the diseased segments of the lung and its surrounding lymph nodes. Occasionally, a larger incision between the ribs is necessary (this is called a thoracotomy) if the tumor is large or centrally located.

Is robotic surgery available for lung cancer?

Yes, robotic surgery has been available for about 10 years, and it allows your surgeon to remove the affected lung or areas of the lung.

Robotic surgery provides a three-dimensional view, allowing surgeons to better see the areas they’re operating on.

Next steps:

How a Markey lab is helping stroke patients

When George Quintero first heard about a new clinical trial that could improve motor function in stroke patients, he knew he had to find a way to bring it to UK HealthCare.

Quintero, a research analyst for the UK Department of Neuroscience, first obtained a list of criteria to apply. The phase II trial required a physician with experience in frame-based surgery, which was easy for UK to fulfill: Dr. Craig van Horne, a neurosurgeon for the Kentucky Neuroscience Institute, has been performing this style of surgery on neurology patients for more than 20 years.

The second required element was a bit trickier. To be a treatment site for this innovative trial, the stroke team needed resources and buy-in from a stem cell lab with specific cell processing skills near the hospital.

“Originally, we thought we just needed a cell lab,” Quintero said. “We realized we didn’t have any experience in the sort of cell delivery we needed. My background is basic sciences and I have a plain cell lab, so it wouldn’t be sufficient.”

Finding the right lab

Quintero hunted for an appropriate lab across the city, beginning with UK’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS). He combed through the work of individual investigators, and then tried to identify facilities around town that would have the means and experience to carry out the specific stem cell work needed for the trial.

After running into several dead ends, he stumbled upon the idea of bone marrow transplants, which use stem cells collected from bone marrow to repopulate the blood after aggressive treatment for blood cancers. Quintero finally had a lead: Just across the street from KNI, the UK Markey Cancer Center’s Blood and Marrow Transplantation (BMT) Program performs upward of 100 bone marrow transplants for patients each year.

Quintero reached out to Dr. Gerhard Hildebrandt, division chief of Hematology and Blood and Marrow Transplantation at UK. Although the work required was unrelated to the usual duties of the stem cell lab, Quintero says Hildebrandt was on board with the project.

“He was very excited,” Quintero said. “He thought that sort of stem cell delivery for neurological diseases would be a really advantageous thing for UK to have. So he was an early supporter of us moving forward, and he got me in touch with the group at the cell lab.”

Working together to improve patient care

Tucked away on the second floor of Albert B. Chandler Hospital, the three staff members of UK’s stem cell lab – lab manager Rita Hill and medical technologists Martha Pat Kinney and Giovi Hidalgo – quietly and efficiently go about their work of preparing stem cells for bone marrow transplant patients at the UK Markey Cancer Center.

Overseen by Dr. Roger Herzig, medical director of Markey’s Blood and Marrow Transplant Program, the lab processes stem cells for both autologous transplants – those using the patient’s own stem cells – and allogenic transplants, in which stem cells harvested from related or unrelated donors are used.

When presented the opportunity to help KNI participate in this trial, Herzig was immediately interested, having previously collaborated on other projects at UK HealthCare. Hill says the team wanted to help but had some initial reservations because of their already busy workload – to do the study, the Markey stem cell team would have to take on additional work outside of their usual service area.

“I first met Dr. Quintero and he gave us a protocol to look at, and wanted to know if we were interested,” Hill said. “We thought, ‘Yes.’ But there is a time constraint and with the BMT program rolling, we weren’t sure if we could really support it.”

For the trial to work, the stem cell team would have to work closely with Quintero and van Horne to ensure seamless patient care. The lab would receive genetically modified stem cells from the pharmaceutical company, process the cells for implantation per trial protocol, and deliver them to Quintero. Once he signed off, van Horne would initiate the procedure by drilling a small hole into the patient’s skull and injecting the stem cells into the brain. Because most of the patients in the trial would be traveling long distances just for this procedure, it was essential to have the process streamlined and efficient from start to finish.

“An idea is pretty easy to have and say, ‘Let’s do this!'” van Horne said. “But when you realize all the work that has to go into these things, it’s phenomenal.”

First, scheduling was key. Hill says Quintero and van Horne were willing to be flexible on the timing of when they could bring in patients, and they worked out a schedule that wouldn’t conflict with their normal duties for Markey.

Secondly, Hill and her team looked closely at the protocol, and noted some small elements of the process that could be improved. After several conversations, the company sponsoring the trial even adopted Hill’s suggestions and implemented them at other trial sites nationwide.

“One of the advantages of having Rita is that she has a lot of expertise in managing cell labs and the requirements of cell processing,” Quintero said. “She sort of gave some direction that the study needed, and the study welcomed that because they wanted the input from individuals to make the project better.”

Culture of collaboration

This recent trial is yet another example of what van Horne describes as “the proliferation of collaborative culture to solve human problems” across UK’s academic and healthcare campuses.

“One of the things that I think is unique about UK is there’s really a culture of collaboration,” van Horne said. “I’ve previously been in other institutions where that culture doesn’t exist… It’s not, ‘This is too much, we just can’t do this,’ but ‘Oh, that’s a great idea, let’s figure out a way to make that work.’ And everybody stepped up and pitched in and made it happen.”

“This kind of collaboration is what keeps making the research and the medicine new,” Herzig said. “And that’s what keeps me coming back to work.”

It’s not the first time the stem cell lab has stepped up to help other across the medical campus. They’ve previously assisted with stem cell research in nephrology and cardiology. Participating in these outside projects has helped the team learn more about what properties stem cells possess aside from the ability to reconstitute blood, which may prove useful in future endeavors.

“Part of the academic mission is collaboration; that allows us to tackle problems that individually we can’t do,” Herzig said. “You never know what technique you have today that you’ll be able to transfer to a different situation tomorrow. The things that we’re learning from this are probably going to be helpful in other future projects.”

Hill and her team spend most of their working time in the lab, but they do personally deliver stem cells to the bone marrow transplant patients who are preparing to undergo their infusions, giving them a brief encounter with the person who will be benefiting from their work. In addition to simply “enjoying the science” of this new project, Hill says the idea of helping even more patients provides some extra personal motivation.

“Who knows, you could have a family member or loved one later on who suffers from a stroke, and this trial could benefit them in the future,” she said. “Why wouldn’t you want to help?”

Next steps:

  • Researchers are working hard to identify new treatments and strategies to improve health, but they need healthy participants and those with medical conditions to participate in clinical studies. Find out how you can participate in clinical research at UK HealthCare.
  • At the UK Comprehensive Stroke Center, we offer treatment, prevention and rehabilitation services for stroke patients. Learn more about our program.
lung cancer

5 things you should know about lung cancer even if you don’t smoke

Lung cancer is the deadliest type of cancer, taking more lives every year than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and the perfect time to learn more about the disease. Here are five things that everyone should know:

1. You don’t have to smoke to get lung cancer.

Although smoking is far and away the leading cause of lung cancer, non-smokers get the disease, too.

In fact, close to 20 percent of people who die from the disease didn’t smoke or use tobacco. Other factors, including radon exposure, exposure to secondhand smoke and genetic mutations, can all cause non-smokers to get lung cancer.

2. Lung cancer often has no symptoms …

Part of what makes lung cancer so deadly is its lack of symptoms. In many cases, symptoms don’t appear until the disease has advanced, often to an incurable stage.

Unfortunately, many common symptoms of lung cancer – such as a persistent cough, hoarseness, shortness of breath and chest pain – can be mistaken for other health problems, which further delays diagnosis.

3. … Which is why screening is so important.

When early-stage lung cancer is detected, a patient’s chance of survival can be as high as 70 percent.

That’s why the UK Markey Cancer Center created the Lung Cancer Screening Program, which offers low-dose CT screenings for patients who are at a high risk of developing lung cancer. Screenings are recommended for patients who:

  • Are ages 55-80.
  • Currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.
  • Have a 30 pack-year smoking history, meaning the patient smokes one pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years, or two packs per day for 15 years.
  • Have no current symptoms of lung cancer.

A lung cancer screening CT scan can detect cancer before symptoms are noticeable and at an early stage. When we find cancer at an early stage, many treatment options are available, which greatly improves the likelihood of survival.

Lung cancer screening does carry risks, including low-dose exposure to radiation and the possibility of more invasive follow-up tests. For that reason, only patients at a high risk for the disease who meet the criteria above should be screened.

4. Lung cancer hits hardest in Kentucky.

It’s a No. 1 ranking we’re not proud of in Kentucky: Our state leads the nation in lung cancer incidence and mortality.

Unsurprisingly, Kentucky also has the highest percentage of smokers in the country, with more than a quarter of residents age 18 or older reporting a smoking habit.

If you’re a smoker, you probably already know it’s a good idea to quit. Here are some tips for finally conquering your addiction.

5. Lung cancer treatment is getting better

One of the most promising recent developments in lung cancer treatment is the use of precision medicine to treat the disease. Precision medicine targets specific mutations in a person’s tumor, which leads to more effective treatment with fewer side effects.

Precision medicine treatments are available at the nation’s top cancer centers, where teams of cancer experts can come together to assess individuals’ genetic attributes and make treatment recommendations tailored to each person.

The UK Markey Cancer Center recently launched its own Molecular Tumor Board, which brings these precision medicine options to patients across Kentucky. Even better for patients with lung cancer is that they can be seen by the tumor board right after their initial diagnosis.

Next steps:

  • Learn more about Markey’s Multidisciplinary Lung Cancer Program, which provides expert care for conditions including small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other cancers of the chest and lungs.
  • Markey is Kentucky’s only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, providing world-class cancer care right here in the Commonwealth. Learn more about why patients choose Markey for their cancer treatment.