Close-to-home advanced cancer care — traditionally available only in Kentucky’s two largest cities — is now available for patients from both small and large communities through clinical trials within the Baptist Health Cancer Research Network.
Baptist Health CEO Steve Hanson said the network expansion is a reflection of the system’s commitment to broad advances in Kentucky’s health. “Everything we do at Baptist Health is aimed at improving the health of the communities we serve,” he said. “We think research is critical to that mission.”
Micheal F. Stephens, network director, said convenience is important to patients. “People don’t want to travel (for cancer care),” she said. “They want to stay in their comfort area with doctors they know.”
Diagnosed with rectal cancer, Ronald Wells of Lexington took the recommendation of his doctors – surgeon Peter S. Tate, MD, and oncologist Amy Schell, MD — and enrolled in a research study using a combination of chemotherapy and surgery as treatment. The surgery was performed between two sets of six treatments each which wrapped up May 22.
“I actually feel great,” said the 60-year-old office manager. “I am one of the fortunate ones. I work full-time and I can do a little bit around the house.”
Wells said he decided to enroll in the clinical trial to not only help himself, but others. “It helped me. It might help the person coming behind me,” he said. “I am grateful for my doctors and what they recommended.”
James R. Smith, diagnosed with colon cancer, had similar feelings about his clinical trial experience, recommended by oncologist Lee G. Hicks, MD. “I didn’t feel obligated” to join the research study, he said, “but, I wanted to help somebody else. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?”
Following the trial, the Versailles man and his wife checked an item off their bucket list — a 4,500-mile, two-week tour of the Western states. The trip – delayed two years because of his cancer diagnosis – was possible because of a clinical trial that has restored his health and vitality.
“I feel better than I’ve ever felt,” said the 66-year-old Versailles man. “Everything has been great.”
Cancer Research Network background
For 23 years, the Baptist Health hospitals in Lexington and Louisville have offered clinical trials through the National Cancer Institute (NCI) as separate entities. In 2014 a mission to expand research opportunities to all communities across the state was implemented. Lexington and Louisville combined forces with other Baptist Health-owned and managed cancer centers to bring the same large NCI-sponsored trials to all Kentuckians.
Now, the Baptist Health Cancer Research Network offers a variety of Phase II, Phase III and quality of life trials – for a variety of cancers, including breast, lung and lymphoma.
Phase II trials look at effectiveness, safety and potential side effects. Phase III trials continue to look at safety and potential side effects but the primary focus of this phase is whether the new treatment is better than the standard treatment.
Some 300 research studies are ongoing at Baptist Health hospitals, focusing on cardiology, orthopedics, neuroscience, pulmonary conditions, gynecology, nursing and allied health, among others, involving more than 2,200 patients to date.
Baptist Health hospitals have participated in several major clinical trials, including two involving breast cancer: the STAR trial on the preventive effects or tamoxifen and raloxifine (showing the drugs were equally effective in preventing breast cancer) and sentinel lymph node mapping, a less invasive way of determining if breast cancer cells have spread to nearby lymph nodes in the armpit.