OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center Expanding Access Statewide with Lung Screening Bus

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OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center Expanding Access Statewide with Lung Screening Bus

The University of Oklahoma Board of Regents on Sept. 13, approved the purchase of a mobile lung cancer screening vehicle for OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center at the OU Health Sciences for the expansion of screening services across the state. The initiative is possible because of a $1.7 million gift from the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET).

The bus is part of Stephenson Cancer Center’s development of the Oklahoma Mobile Lung Cancer Screening Action Network (Oklahoma LUNG SCAN). Oklahoma ranks nearly last in the United States for early-stage cancer detection, according to the American Cancer Society. Only 22% of new lung cancer diagnoses are made at an early stage, lower than the national rate of 26%. People in many rural and underserved areas across Oklahoma have limited access to lung cancer screening.

“This program expands the partnership between TSET and Stephenson Cancer Center by providing state-of-the-art mobile screening for lung cancer to communities throughout Oklahoma,” said Stephenson Cancer Center Director Robert Mannel, M.D. “Our partnership with TSET has profoundly affected the lives of countless Oklahomans through TSET’s support of access to cancer clinical trials and cancer research, and this new initiative will make screenings available to Oklahomans who would otherwise have no access to this lifesaving service.”

Early detection of lung cancer — before it spreads outside the lungs — is crucial for patients to have the best possible results from treatment. According to the National Institutes of Health, a low-dose CT (computed tomography) scan can detect lung cancer in its early stages and reduce deaths by up to 20%. If people can easily access lung cancer screening in their own communities, early detection will likely increase.

“To reduce the burden of lung cancer in Oklahoma, we must remove barriers to screening and raise awareness about the importance of early detection,” said Mark Doescher, M.D., Director of Community Engagement and Outreach at Stephenson Cancer Center. “With partners like TSET, we are making it easier for people statewide to undergo a fast and non-invasive CT scan that can save their lives.”

Cigarette smoking is the primary risk factor for lung cancer and is associated with 80% of lung cancer cases and deaths, according to the American Cancer Society. Other risk factors include secondhand smoke, environmental exposure such as air pollution and asbestos, genetic predisposition, and a history of other lung diseases, such as chronic bronchitis, asthma and emphysema.

Lung cancer is, by far, the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, accounting for about 1 in 5 of all cancer deaths. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. Estimates show that more than 3,300 Oklahomans will be diagnosed with lung cancer for the first time in 2023. Oklahoma also ranks near the bottom of all states for people receiving treatment for lung cancer after they are diagnosed.

As a National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Center, Stephenson Cancer Center offers a range of lung cancer treatment options. The cancer center is home to Oklahoma’s only two fellowship-trained thoracic oncology surgeons, who focus on treating conditions of the chest. Together, they perform the largest number of minimally invasive robotic lung cancer surgeries in the region, with excellent outcomes. Moreover, Stephenson Cancer Center offers more surgical options for advanced thoracic cancer than any other hospital in the state.

The U.S. News and World Report designated OU Health as high-performing in lung cancer surgery. The Society of Thoracic Surgeons ranked OU Health as a three-star program, the highest category of quality, in surgery for esophageal cancer, and as a two-star program for lung cancer surgery.

Testing offered through the mobile screening bus will be fully covered by Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance. Patients whose screenings indicate lung cancer is present will be connected with services that provide follow-up testing to confirm a diagnosis. The program begins in 2024 and will be implemented across the state by 2028.

“TSET is proud to partner with Stephenson Cancer Center to bring this lifesaving lung cancer screening to rural areas of Oklahoma,” said Julie Bisbee, TSET executive director. “Too many eligible Oklahomans aren’t getting screened for lack of access. Bringing lung cancer screenings to rural Oklahoma will save lives and improve health in areas of the state that too often lack adequate access to healthcare.”