Schneck Medical Center works to catch lung cancer earlier and help save lives


During the month of October, breast cancer gets a lot of attention, but it’s not the most prevalent type of cancer being treated locally.

Lung cancer continues to be the most frequently seen cancer at Schneck Medical Center, according to the Seymour hospital’s 2018 Annual Cancer Program Report.

Schneck reported 66 cases of lung cancer in patients in 2017, which is the most current data available. Breast cancer came in second with 56 cases, and colon cancer followed with 30 cases.

Total, there were 335 cases of cancer treated by the hospital in 2017 with most patients coming from Jackson and Jennings counties.

The first time lung cancer surpassed breast cancer as the most diagnosed cancer at Schneck was 2013.

Kristin Hines, director of cancer and palliative care services, said the reason lung cancer continues to rank the highest is because of the number of smokers in the area.

“There’s a lot of smokers in Jackson County,” Hines said.

The county smoking rate stands at 18% of the population. Jennings and Washington counties are at 19%, and Scott County is 20%.

Indiana’s smoking rate is 21.8%, which is higher than the national rate of 17.1%, according to the United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings.

In an effort to catch lung cancer earlier in patients and help save lives, the hospital has made it a goal to increase the number of people receiving low-dose CT (computed tomography) lung screenings.

To do that, Schneck has cut the cost of the exam in half, now offering it for $25.

“We worked with the company that reads them and also our radiologist group to get that price decrease,” Hines said. “That way, people are more likely to consider it. I think it has made a big difference.”

The screening, performed by Schneck’s radiology department, is quick, noninvasive and does not require a doctor’s referral or an appointment, she said.

“You can just walk in and have it done,” she said. “You don’t even have to call, and you will know if it’s positive or negative.”

Schneck in partnership with the Jackson County Health Department offers free smoking cessation classes. The group meets every Thursday in the Women’s Center reception area from 6 to 7 p.m. The health department offers free nicotine patches to participants who attend the sessions.

In the past, there was a lack of follow-up with screening results, but that has changed, Hines said.

If the screening comes back positive, then staff members reach out to the patient to help them take the next steps.

“We make sure we’re doing the right thing for the patient,” she said. “So we call them and ask if they are getting treatment and the appropriate care. We can do screenings all day long, but if we aren’t following through, then it’s pointless.”

People who are considered high risk for developing lung cancer are eligible for the screening. That includes men and women age 55 to 74 who have smoked at least one pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years and continue to smoke or quit less than 15 years ago.

Also, anyone 50 or older who has smoked at least one pack a day for 20 years or two packs a day for 10 years and has at least one additional risk factor, such as occupational exposure, residential radon exposure, cancer history, family history of lung cancer or history of lung disease, should be screened.

The screenings are more than just a medical test. They can save lives, Hines said.

Oftentimes, by the time a patient exhibits symptoms of lung cancer, such as a cough, coughing up blood, chest pain, wheezing and weight loss, it’s too late for conventional treatment to make much of a difference.

“We had two in August that were positive and three in September,” she said.

By working with area health clinics and physicians to schedule lung screenings, Schneck is being proactive and making it easier for patients, Hines said.

At the beginning of 2019, Schneck was doing seven lung screenings a month, but that has increased to 25.

“We’re trying to get to at least 50 a quarter,” she said. “We know there are tons of smokers out there that would benefit from this screening.”

In the past year, the cancer center has added a new medical oncologist, Madelaine Sgroi, a new oncology pharmacist, Chelsey Bentz, and two radiation oncologists, John Cox and Kevin McMullen.

Hines was hired in May 2018 after Sally Acton retired.

They also hired a staff member to handle prior authorizations from insurance for treatment.

“Basically, our volumes had just climbed,” Hines said of needing more staff. “We’ve almost doubled our volumes.”

Schneck is treating anywhere from 12 to 16 patients a day in radiation, sometimes more, and an additional 10 to 20 patients a day in the treatment room, Hines said.

“Twenty sounds like a lot, but that could be a simple lab draw or port flush their coming in for or it could be a six-hour chemo,” she said.

In order to see more patients, three more exam rooms were added, too.

Patients can now be seen in a more timely manner, which is important because having to wait can be scary, Hines said.

“Before, Dr. Olivarez was out six to eight weeks to get an appointment, and now, we can get someone in if we have to right away,” she said.

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Schneck Medical Center low-dose CT lung screenings

Cost: $25

Those at high risk for lung cancer who are eligible for the screening include:

Age 55 to 74 with at least a 30 pack-year smoking history – one pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years – who continue to smoke or who quit less than 15 years ago

Age 50 or older with at least a 20 pack-year smoking history – one pack a day for 20 years or two packs a day for 10 years – and at least one additional risk factor (occupational exposure, residential radon exposure, cancer history, family history of lung cancer or history of lung disease)

To schedule a screening, call 812-522-0433.

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Smoking cessation classes

Where: Schneck Medical Center’s Women’s Center reception area

When: 6 to 7 p.m. every Thursday

Cost: Free

Free nicotine patches are available for participants through the Jackson County Health Department.

For information, call 812-522-0401.


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