A heavy industrial heritage and high smoking rates pack a double whammy in Niagara County when it comes to lung cancer rates.
Still, the county hasn’t had a health care clinic dedicated to detection and treatment of the type of cancer that is the leading cause of death for women in the county and the second leading cause for men, after heart disease.
Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center announced Friday that the top lung cancer surgeon with the Buffalo hospital, and some of his staff, have opened the Thoracic Center at Memorial.
Leaders of the two hospitals also signed a memorandum that will allow the hospitals to explore other collaborations to bring more Roswell Park cancer care and detection programs north of the Erie County border.
“This new program will be an important addition to cancer care services in Niagara County,” Falls Memorial President and CEO Joseph A. Ruffolo said during a press conference on the Memorial campus. “The per capita incidence of lung and bronchial cancer in Niagara County (82.5 per 100,000) is much higher than in the state or the nation as a whole, making it even more important to make this specialized care readily available to those who live and work here.”
The Thoracic Center opened last month on the ground floor of the 171-bed hospital and shares space with kidney services. The center focuses on the prevention, detection and treatment of lung cancer and other malignant conditions of the chest and chest wall, hospital leaders said. A lung cancer early detection program, which at Roswell has diagnosed 70 percent of cancers at an early stage, will be an integral part of the work.
"The data supporting lung cancer screening is crystal clear. It saves lives," said Dr. Sai Yendamuri, chair and attending surgeon with the Roswell Department of Thoracic Surgery. "When you do screening, you shift the stage of a patient. Stage 1 is imminently curable; Stage 4, we're talking extension of life, not so much cure. They're two different worlds. To bring a patient from one world to another is a big deal."
Yendamuri directs the new clinic with help from a nurse practitioner and physician assistant. Each sees patients on Mondays. Prospective patients can call 278-4597 to make an appointment.
All but the most complicated lung cancer surgeries can now be performed at Falls Memorial, Ruffolo said, and will save patients in the Niagara Falls region transportation time for screenings, treatment and follow-up visits.
"It's still the early days,” Yendamuri said. “I've only seen about 10 patients, but I get a sense that if care is not available, at least in consultation locally, many of them will not travel far to seek out such care, so I already feel rewarded in making the decision to provide services in Niagara Falls."
The clinic opened in a county that last year ranked 59 out of 62 counties in New York State in national health rankings released by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. Erie County ranked 57th.
Tobacco use helps explain the dreadful Niagara rankings — 22 percent of adults in Niagara smoke cigarettes — and why the county also has the second lowest longevity rate in the state.
Only Chautauqua County, at 23 percent, and Cattaraugus, at 24 percent, rank worse in the region. Those counties landed 58th and 60th, respectively, statewide in overall health rankings.
Niagara County lung cancer cases have climbed 36 percent over the last 40 years. Today, the county’s rate of incidence is one of the highest across the state.
That’s not all.
“Given the environmental factors inherent in Niagara County — its large number of chemical plants and its history of former smokestack industries, not to mention the presence of Love Canal and six other EPA Superfund sites — the presence of cancer casts a pall over those who live and work here,” Ruffolo said. “Partnering with Roswell to launch lung cancer screening in conjunction with this new thoracic program undoubtedly will save lives.”
Roswell Park operates a Niagara Center satellite infusion site in Wheatfield and the Roswell Park Hematology Oncology of Niagara community cancer practice in Niagara Falls, but this is the first time the hospital has partnered with another health care corporation for comprehensive treatment in Niagara County.
It won't be the last. Candace S. Johnson, cancer center president and CEO, said Roswell Park looks to expand its footprint throughout the region to improve access to such care along with a variety of specialties.