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Partnerships, high-tech diagnostic tools enhance capabilities

Mississippi hospitals upgrading cancer programs

Mississippi hospitals are boosting cancer specialty programs by building powerful partnerships with the world’s leading cancer research centers, stronger ties to the American Cancer Society (ACS) and investing in high-tech diagnostic tools.

“By having healthcare facilities in Mississippi expand their cancer centers and treatment services to Mississippians for better access to care, this measurably helps to improve the quality of life for cancer patients and their families,” said Robert Morris, vice president of the ACS of Mississippi.

The ACS works with healthcare facilities by providing programs and services to families facing cancer, and by assisting the cancer centers with the accreditation process through the prestigious American College of Surgeons program. In Mississippi, 12 of the state’s 18 cancer centers have this accreditation.

“Improving treatment abilities by doing things like partnering with M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, institutions lessen the burden that cancer patients might experience,” said Morris. “We’re very grateful for the expansion happening in this state.”

Mississippi Baptist Health Systems is one of only four hospitals in the U.S. to formally partner with M.D. Anderson and was the nation’s first cancer program to receive accreditation from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations.

“We wanted to work with a world-renowned cancer and research facility that might have an affiliation opportunity to strengthen services to our patients,” said Kurt W. Metzner, CEO and president of Baptist Health Systems.

The Jackson-based hospital signed a pact with M.D. Anderson in the spring of 2002, around the same time Baptist’s new 39,000-square-foot Hederman Cancer Center opened. Today, 18 physicians at Baptist have the same credentialing requirements as those on staff at M.D. Anderson.

Tupelo-based North Mississippi Medical Center (NMMC), which is affiliated with Mayo Medical Laboratories and the National Cancer Institute, houses its cancer center in a two-story building that was designed to accommodate six additional floors.

“We have plenty of growth potential to keep up with the demand,” said Gerald Wages, COO and executive vice president for NMMC.

Based on NMMC’s annual report for 2003, some 1,403 total cases were diagnosed in its cancer program. Of those, the top five primary sites treated, which are reflective of national ranks, were lung (249), breast (168), prostate (143), colon (108) and melanoma (59). The most noticeable change was the upward movement of melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer. In 2004, approximately 1,513 cases were diagnosed in the program.

Last October, the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMC) Department of Otolaryngology and Communicative Sciences added specialized skin cancer surgery as a subspecialty to its head and neck cancer diagnosis and treatment program. The department’s Randy Jordan, M.D., is one of few physicians in Mississippi trained to perform the specialized Moh’s surgery for skin cancer, which has a higher degree of accuracy in removing cancerous tissue than typical surgical methods. The comprehensive head and neck cancer clinic, housed in the Cancer Institute at the Jackson Medical Mall, is the first subspecialty cancer group for UMC. Last November, UMC unveiled its new brain tumor program.

For 2005, the American Cancer Society predicts nearly 15,000 Mississippians will be diagnosed with cancer, and more than 6,000 will die from the disease. The primary sites projected for treatment are prostate (3,210), breast (2,350), lung (2,180) and colon (1,630). Of those, the highest fatality rate is predicted for lung cancer patients. The lowest mortality percentage: prostate cancer.

“Fifty percent of colon cancer deaths could be prevented if we had age-appropriate colorectal cancer screenings,” said Morris. “When we find cancer at an early stage, we can help prevent it and have a greater success rate for long-term survival.”

Central Mississippi Medical Center (CMMC) was the first hospital in Jackson to offer safer radiation treatments, including X-Knife radiology and the state’s only high dose rate after-loading brachytherapy. At the Mississippi Gamma Knife Center, CMMC houses the state’s only gamma knife for patients with inoperable brain tumors.

Three years ago, CMMC was one of the first hospitals in the nation to offer patients the latest innovation in diagnostic imaging with the addition of GE’s Discovery LS PET/CT Scanner to its Nuclear Medicine Department. The PET/CT scans assist in the diagnosis of lung, head/neck, esophageal and colon cancers and lymphoma and melanoma.

CMMC plans to upgrade its current linear accelerator with intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), which uses an advanced computer programming system to divide each of the radiation treatment beams into multiple beams, and assigns varying beam intensities to the individual rays.

“This technology should deliver precisely targeted radiation to irregularly shaped tumors and improve upon limiting the exposure of surrounding normal tissues from undesirably high levels of radiation,” said CMMC spokesperson Becky Martin.

Within 20 years, the number of new diagnosed cancer cases is predicted to rise by 60%, as baby boomers cross into the senior years.

“Compared to other states, Mississippi is holding its own, in terms of progress,” said Morris. “There are still pockets in Mississippi where there are some true disparities.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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