New data officially released on Sept. 6, 2011 shows University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center patients who have certain types of cancer have higher survival rates than patients with the same cancers treated elsewhere in the state or even the nation.
Markey patients have significantly better five-year survival rates than those Kentucky cancer patients who were treated elsewhere for brain, breast, liver, lung, ovarian, pancreatic and prostate cancer, as well as for stage IV colorectal cancer.
For example, Markey patients treated for liver cancer are two-and-a-half times more likely to survive five years after their cancer diagnosis when compared to other Kentucky patients. Other significant numbers include higher rates of survival after five years for lung (18 percent), ovarian (23 percent), brain (36 percent), and Stage IV colorectal cancer (49 percent).
In addition, Markey patients with brain, lung, liver and ovarian cancers show higher five-year survival rates than patients treated at other cancer centers nationwide.
Data on Markey's cancer survival rates was gathered by Markey researchers, and the results were compared to those from the Kentucky Cancer Registry and the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program. Data was collected from 1998-2007 and the selection criteria included patients older than 20 years of age who were experiencing their first primary malignant cancer only. All patients were actively followed throughout the treatment process and for the subsequent five years after treatment.
Dr. Mark Evers, director of the Markey Cancer Center, describes the new data as a measure of Markey's quality of care, and he predicts that soon all cancer centers will be required to release similar data for the public.
As a major referral center for the Commonwealth, Markey often takes in the most difficult cancer cases from physicians around the state. This makes the data regarding survival rates even more impressive, says Dr. Thomas Tucker, the associate director for cancer prevention and control at Markey.
"University cancer centers often see more difficult and advanced cancer cases. In general, the survival is not as good for these patients," Tucker said. "Therefore, it is especially noteworthy that Markey Cancer Center Patients had better survival rates in nearly every category."
The University of Kentucky's status as an academic medical center means patients have access to a wide variety of specialists — including residents and attending physicians — who can collaborate on their care, said Evers.
"Here at Markey, patients have the benefit of true multidisciplinary care," Evers said. "Health care providers from different medical areas and specialties work together to determine the best course of treatment for our patients. It's that team approach that makes the biggest difference in our survival rates."
For example, Markey's survival outcomes for liver cancer are substantially higher because of the center's access to the UK Transplant Center. For many liver cancer patients, the most successful treatment will require a liver transplant, and UK's transplant surgeons can work with Markey's physicians to provide the surgery and follow-up care.
Markey is also home to major cancer research, with hundreds of clinical trials underway at any given time. In addition to receiving new and experimental treatments in these trials, Markey patients have the advantage of visiting their physician on a regular basis.
Screenings have made a difference, as well, helping physicians catch cancer in its earliest and most curable stages. The Ovarian Cancer Screening Program, run by Dr. John van Nagell, provides free cancer screenings by transvaginal ultrasound (TVS) to postmenopausal women over the age of 50 or over the age of 25 with a family history of the disease.
Additionally, UK is home to some of the most advanced cancer-treating technology available. The Gamma Knife Perfexion, the TomoTherapy Hi-Art system, and stereotactic body radiation therapy are noninvasive ways to reach tough-to-reach tumors of the body — these systems use radiation beams to precisely target tumors with minimal effect on surrounding tissue.
While the data highlights the efforts Markey has made to elevate patient care, Evers notes that there's always room to grow and improve. In September 2012, the center plans to further boost its quality of care by applying for cancer center designation by the National Cancer Institute.
Only 66 other centers in the country have earned this prestigious designation, and Kentucky is one of 16 states that currently do not have an NCI-designated cancer center. Benefits to earning an NCI designation include up to $1.5 million annually in funding, access to nationwide clinical trials, and an increase in community engagement including volunteers, patient advisory groups, and education and intervention programs.
"Kentucky's cancer rates are among the highest in the nation — the state needs an NCI-designated cancer center to provide for Kentuckians," Evers said. "But the NCI doesn't award these designations lightly. We've made this designation a major goal at Markey, and our work so far reflects that. We're doing everything we can to prepare for our application next fall."