Kentucky Cancer Program
Statewide Program Aims to Reduce Cancer and Provide Valuable Resources
Writer / Andrew Toy
According to a recent scientific paper published in an American Cancer Society journal, it is estimated that in 2020, approximately 606,520 people died of cancer in the United States. Kentucky played a part in that alarming statistic. As recently as 2017, about 181 men per 100,000 died from cancer, as well as 131 women per 100,000.
However, both men and women have celebrated a decline in cancer death rates since 1999. This is likely because of programs like the Kentucky Cancer Program (KCP), which was founded in 1982 due to state legislation. The goal of the program is to reduce cancer incidents, save lives, and provide hard education, research and services in any way possible.
Jointly administered by the University of Louisville’s James Graham Brown Cancer Center and the University of Kentucky’s Lucille Parker Markey Cancer Center, the KCP boasts 14 offices across our beloved Bluegrass state. Each district has different needs and programs that are important to its community. The partnership between Kentucky’s two major academic institutions, along with university cancer centers, means that KCP activities can be and are based strictly on the latest and most scientifically accurate cancer data.
The partnership can also provide laboratory needs for population-based research. The staff includes cancer control specialists who are experts in charge of coordinating cancer prevention and early detection programs. They also put together patient and family services, as well as professional education and training. These specialists also mobilize communities through coalitions and partnerships to address local cancer programs. They are dedicated to preventing and slowing the deadly disease.
Recognized nationally as a unique, state-funded program, the KCP is university affiliated and community based, which means Kentucky’s communities are getting the very best. The programs that the KCP provides in the commonwealth in order to address cancer are many and diverse, including public education for cancer prevention, professional education and training to increase and promote cancer screening and reduce nicotine dependence, support services for cancer patients and families, and community-based research to improve health outcomes.
For the KCP, it’s all about teamwork and partnership – strength in numbers, if you will. The KCP leverages collaborations in order to gain resources and mobilize others such as state partners and local communities. Partnerships include the American Cancer Society, the Kentucky Department for Public Health, local health departments including hospitals, the Kentucky Cancer Registry, as well as other national, state and local organizations. Because of these partnerships, many signature initiatives and coalitions have been made possible and have come to fruition.
The Kentucky Cancer Consortium (KCC) considers the KCP to be an important partner. Together, they helped draft the initial Cancer Action Plan that led to the KCC’s formation, and it’s guided by KCP District Cancer Councils. In each of the 15 Area Development Districts, the KCP maintains District Cancer Councils. This structure provides vital and ongoing support for strategic planning to address local cancer problems, and to implement statewide initiatives in every region. The representatives serving on the councils are experts from county and district health departments, government agencies, hospitals, universities, health care providers, labor unions, businesses, tobacco coalitions, schools, and other established institutions.
Cancer survivors are also represented. To find a list of all the District Cancer Council members, you can check out the biennial report on the KCP website.
Perhaps one of the KCP’s most prominent attributes is playing a major role in linking Kentuckians with cancer resources through a variety of means such as cancer control specialists at their regional offices, community health fairs, educational programs and other special events.
The KCP also uses Pathfinder, an online tool that enables users to search for resources related to screening, tobacco use, information and referrals, patient assistance, medical care, survivorship and support groups, as well as national and state resources. These searches can be county-specific.
The workers at the KCP are dedicated to beating cancer and providing as much care and protection for patients as possible. One such worker is Pam Temple-Jennings, who has been with the Kentucky Cancer Program at the University of Louisville for more than 30 years. Temple-Jennings is a senior cancer control specialist for the Falls District. She covers seven counties including Jefferson, Oldham, Bullitt, Shelby, Henry, Trimble, and Spencer. She provides early detection and prevention programs throughout the region by delivering lectures to the community, businesses and school groups. The topics she speaks on include, but are not limited to, reducing cancer risks and early detection, skin cancer prevention, tobacco cessation, and support services for cancer patients and their families.
Temple-Jennings also organizes mammography screenings and screenings for skin, head and neck, and prostate cancers. These can be done at places like the Kentucky State Fair.
“At the fair there are so many people that are screened and use that opportunity for their annual exams of cancer screenings,” Temple-Jennings explains. “We have, in the past, offered colon cancer education and handed out take-home screening kits for colon cancer at the fair. We also know that we have detected many breast, skin and prostate cancers through the work at the fair and in the community.”
If all of that isn’t enough, Temple-Jennings facilitates smoking cessation for one or more group classes at any given time. She organizes cancer survivor celebrations for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, as well as a general cancer survivor event for the Brown Cancer Center. She also provides up-to-date resources for primary care offices on how to talk to patients about smoking cessation, lung cancer screening and colon cancer screening, and she also shares information on the Kentucky Women’s Cancer Screening Program. This program provides free mammograms and cervical cancer screenings for women who do not have insurance and meet income eligibility requirements.
One of the KCP’s specialized programs is called Horses and Hope
“This program was initiated while former First Lady Jane Beshear was in office,” Temple-Jennings says, adding that the project brings education, screening and other programs into racetracks and the horse industry – quite appropriate for Kentucky. “It mostly focuses on breast cancers, but it has addressed some of the other screenable cancers.”
There is a large horse racing community in Kentucky, and this is one group that can have difficulty finding time for screening and resources.
“We also sponsor breast cancer survivor celebrations at the racetracks across Kentucky,” Temple-Jennings says. “We definitely know that our program provides a service to people who may not otherwise be screened. It may be that the mobile mammography unit is in their neighborhood providing screenings that they might not have gotten because of transportation issues, or time problems because of work.”
A recent mammogram screening at VFW Post and Auxiliary 1170 in Middletown was so successful that it was booked solid and had no slots left when the day of the event arrived.
“For more than 10 years, we’ve been hosting Mammogram Day,” says Debbie Walthall, Auxiliary president. “Each year it grows. This past year was our most successful.”
One major obstacle is that some people don’t want to get screened or tested for a variety of reasons, including transportation problems, lack of money or insurance, or difficulty getting time off from an employer. There are also psychological reasons that people won’t get tested. They might be afraid of the results, or think perhaps it will be painful.
“It is not just one thing that makes people not get screened,” Temple-Jennings asserts. “For the most part, people are very happy that have gone through the provided screening we organize.”
She adds that the KCP’s biggest obstacle in preventing cancer is smoking.
“The cigarette is a person’s best friend and is there no matter what,” Temple-Jennings says. “A person has to really want to quit and be ready for a major behavioral change in their life. It might take a person seven to 10 times of trying to quit before they become a nonsmoker.”
Of course, COVID hasn’t helped matters in this regard. The pandemic has escalated stress, and giving up cigarettes can be even harder now than it would have been before. Issues such as job losses through the past year have also contributed to heightened nerves.
Nevertheless, Temple-Jennings puts out a firm warning: “Those people who smoke have a more difficult time with COVID,” she says.
COVID-19 has also gotten in the way of the KCP’s normal operating procedure, as Kentucky Cancer Program workers are normally out in the community. Luckily, the organization has gotten creative to work around problems that COVID has presented. The KCP has been able to find other ways to reach the community and cancer patients through Zoom, Facebook, conference calls, and one-on-one outreach. No disease is going to stop the KCP from being in the community providing mammography screenings to catch another disease.
For additional help and resources, the KCP also offers an online smoking cessation program on the third Thursday of each month via Zoom. Temple-Jennings says this Zoom meeting “will help smokers determine their level of addiction to cigarettes, their level of readiness to quit, and what steps to take to becoming a nonsmoker. It reviews all the FDA-approved medication for becoming a nonsmoker – and, electronic cigarettes are not the way to stop smoking.”
In a world filled with communities paranoid about diseases lingering both in the air and within our bodies, the KCP is here to help battle and combat half those fears and threats to our lives, and the lives of our loved ones. Get a free screening through the KCP, which will help determine if you are in any danger – at no cost.
For more info, visit www.kycancerprogram.org.