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January 15, 2020

Photo by Joe Howell

The team at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center is working with many different health care systems to improve chances of survival for people residing in a region of the country with the highest cancer mortality. Kentucky has the highest rate of cancer deaths in the United States, followed by Mississippi, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Alabama. The death rates from cancer run even higher in rural areas of these states.

Our cover story details initiatives to help oncologists from rural communities improve patient outcomes. Using telehealth technology, community oncologists can engage with Vanderbilt-Ingram molecular tumor boards and receive consults and guidance on personalized medicine from our teams of experts. We have contributed to the development of new immunotherapies and pioneered new targeted therapies, which are aligned to the right patient at the right time, regardless of ZIP code, through the expertise of our molecular tumor boards. Our telehealth initiatives will empower people in rural areas with access to an online education database and a patient navigator, thus facilitating cancer prevention and control.

One of the driving factors for our region’s high cancer mortality rate is tobacco use. In Tennessee, one in five adults smokes, and in Kentucky, one in four smokes. Another story in this issue highlights the advances in lung cancer screening, prevention and treatment made possible by Vanderbilt-Ingram. Our researchers have demonstrated the benefits of lung screening for early cancer detection and identified a racial disparity in the current screening guidelines. Further, through basic science discoveries, we have insights into how we can distinguish malignant tumors from benign lesions that are identified during screening. In preventive efforts, our investigators are using biomarkers to match smokers with smoking cessation medications — a personalized approach. Finally, our clinical investigators led a national study that resulted in the first new line of therapy in decades for small cell lung cancer. All of our research programs have made advances that have impact on lung cancer, which drives the highest rate of cancer death within and beyond our catchment area.

Low HPV vaccination rates in this region have set the stage for another health disparity, higher rates of cervical, oropharyngeal and anal cancers. Also highlighted in this issue is an initiative to determine the most effective way providers can increase vaccination rates.

Our region also has high rates of colorectal cancer and breast cancer deaths. Vanderbilt-Ingram is a hub for medical breakthroughs in the treatment of these cancers with National Cancer Institute Specialized Programs of Cancer Research Excellence (SPORE) initiatives that have been continuously funded for more than two decades. Another article highlights how these research programs spurred clinical trials that have led to the development of new treatments.

Located in Nashville at the buckle of the cancer belt, at Vanderbilt-Ingram we recognize the needs of the people we serve and are committed to meeting the challenge of reducing rates of cancer death.