A New Collaboration in the Fight Against Lung Cancer

$5.6 million grant award to create state-wide prevention and screening program

There is a harsh reality facing the people of Maine: local lung cancer rates are among the highest in the nation and the leading cause of cancer deaths in the state. For years, an ad-hoc network of isolated programs have struggled to make improvements, but one Maine physician is ready to take on the entire spectrum of cancer screening, prevention and treatment in a bid save move lives.

Doctor and cancer researcher Paul Han, Director of the Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation at Maine Medical Center Research Institute is launching a new state-wide program, the Maine Lung Cancer Prevention and Screening Initiative (Maine LungCAPS), thanks to a $5 million grant award from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, $400,000 from Maine Cancer Foundation and $200,000 from the Maine Economic Improvement Fund.

The Maine LungCAPS initiative is designed to engage patients, caregivers and policy makers in a joint effort to reduce lung cancer, with a heavy emphasis on prevention, new screening techniques and robust analytics to identify areas for improvement in the patient experience.

“Cancer, and the treatment of cancer, present problems not only physical and technological, but psychological, social and ethical,” said Han. “The Maine LungCAPS initiative will offer new strategies to identify and reach at-risk individuals through community-based education, nurse-led patient navigators, telemedicine, and the adoption of low-dose CT procedures for patients at the earliest stages of lung cancer development.”

Lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death in Maine, has traditionally been difficult to identify in patients, with more than 75% of all cases detected at Stage 4 – the most advanced stage of cancer, one that seldom responds successfully to treatment.

“For the first time, we have an effective method of detecting lung cancer at the beginning, when it can be treated,” said Han.  “Another exciting advance in lung cancer screening is ‘risk-based’ or ‘precision screening’ - the use of statistical models to determine which individuals are at higher or lower risk of lung cancer, and to target them accordingly.” 

Dr. Han’s years of work with cancer patients has guided him towards a broader view of cancer care: systemic, state-wide change is needed for measurable improvements. The idea for the Maine LungCAPS Initiative emerged when Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation approached Dr. Han and two of the initiative’s other co-leaders — Natalie Morse from MaineGeneral Prevention Center and Lisa Letourneau from Maine Quality Counts. The group worked together to explore what was happening in Maine and identify areas for improvement.

“We realized this was a unique opportunity to capitalize on the strengths of our respective organizations,” said Han. “This was the chance to develop a program devoted to improving lung cancer prevention and screening services, particularly for those living in rural and underserved communities.” The partnership blossomed into the Maine LungCAPS initiative, scheduled to begin in the summer of 2016.

Dr. Han noted another major benefit of the Maine LungCAPS program is the formation of a group that can act as a state-wide, multi-disciplinary convener for lung cancer issues. “Bringing together diverse organizations allows us to achieve more than any single organization could achieve alone,” said Han. “Multiple individuals and organizations – many of whom have not worked together before, will require a great deal of coordination and active engagement, but I have faith that Maine LungCAPS’ focus on the greater good of our communities, and on cooperation and sharing of information, will help us overcome any challenges.”

The Maine LungCAPS project includes several partner organizations including MaineGeneral, MaineHealth, Maine Quality Counts, Maine Public Health Association, Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, the University of Southern Maine Muskie School of Public Service, American Lung Association, Maine Cancer Foundation, American Cancer Society, as well as a statewide network of health care providers and advocacy organizations.

Learn More about Lung Cancer in Maine

Tuesday, June 28, 2016