Karmanos Cancer Institute's Environmental Cancer Program Rolling out Statewide in July

Jun 02, 2010, 14:13 ET from Karmanos Cancer Institute

DETROIT, June 2 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, in cooperation with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), is introducing the Environmental Cancer Program to physicians statewide July 1.

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The program trains primary care physicians to accurately identify and diagnose cancers and other serious illnesses resulting from exposure to arsenic, radon and asbestos, three of the state's most frequently encountered carcinogens.

Michael Harbut, M.D., MPH, FCCP, of Karmanos is director and author of the program. Dr. Harbut is an occupational and environmental medical expert.

"We began introducing the medical evidence-based approach to doctors participating in BCBSM's Physician Group Incentive Program (PGIP) at Providence Hospital in Southfield and within the St. John Health System earlier this year," said Dr. Harbut. "We are pleased that we are now rolling this out statewide."

The Environmental Cancer Program aligns with the recent President's Cancer Panel report that the numbers and types of cancers caused by the environment have been grossly underestimated. It has earned the endorsement of the ATSDR considering the uniqueness of its goals.

"The Michigan Environmental Cancer Program addresses four important design elements for clinical preventive environmental health services: potential exposure to such specific environmental hazards as arsenic, asbestos and radon with known cancer health risks; low-cost screening that physicians can perform to identify exposures; a health plan that encourages physicians to provide preventive care for their patients; and the need to not only care for persons with cancer but look for ways to prevent it,"  said Michael Hatcher, Ph.D., chief of ATSDR's environmental medicine and educational services program.

"Karmanos is offering this program to physicians to accurately identify who is at risk for disease before symptoms become apparent. It is not unusual for people to be unaware that they have even been exposed to these toxins," he said.

Dr. Harbut added that by using existing data identifying workplace and environmental arsenic, asbestos and radon, physicians can determine who is at risk, what preventive care may be recommended and can more accurately diagnose and treat those at risk.

Michigan residents are at particular risk for potentially contracting an illness or cancer related to environmental factors, considering the state has the nation's largest arsenic-contaminated water table, located primarily in the southeastern part of the state. Additionally, an estimated 300,000 homes have attic insulation that contains asbestos. Radon gas that seeps into basements also poses a health threat, as well as cigarette smoke.

"Physicians need to be aware of the symptoms they should look for when it comes to diagnosing and treating environmental-related cancer and other illnesses," Dr. Harbut said. "The risk is real."

Physicians who sign up for the program take four, hour-long online Continuing Medical Education courses developed by the ATSDR. These courses teach physicians about identifying at-risk patients and using appropriate diagnostics and treatment. The program also provides referrals to appropriate specialty centers if needed.

Eligible physicians include members of a Blue Cross "PGIP physician organization" and are considered a primary care physician, a pulmonologist, a pediatrician or oncologist, as defined by BCBS. There is no fee to enroll. Blue Cross will provide physicians a $500 honorarium on completion of the CME part of the program.

Blue Cross officials stated that the Environmental Cancer Program is the type of preventive program the insurer strives to promote when it comes to the health and well being of all Michigan residents.

"This program has the potential to help identify the risk of environmental exposure, which can lead to cancer," said David Share, M.D., executive medical director of Blue Cross Blue Shield Michigan. "It also holds promise as an approach to decrease such risks.

"Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan actively supports health programs which prevent cancer as part of our commitment to optimizing the health of Michigan residents."

Mark T. Gaffney, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, applauds the program going state-wide. The AFL-CIO has been involved in providing safe worksites and keeping workers healthy on the job, he noted.

"I am very happy that Dr. Michael Harbut's Environmental Cancer Program at the Karmanos Cancer Institute has been formed," he said. "The work done there will prevent suffering and death among working people, both non-union and union, across our state.

"Physicians in Michigan have for years had a lung cancer focus, but this program will encourage physicians to find radon, arsenic and asbestos exposure among our citizens."

The American Cancer Society estimated last year that almost 1.5 million new cases of cancer would be reported in this country by the end of 2009. Roughly 70 percent of those cases were linked to occupational and environmental causes, including tobacco use and diet, based on information from the National Institutes of Health. In light of those statistics, Dr. Harbut said the program is long overdue.

"This is a completely new program that has never been attempted before in the United States," he said. "This is a culmination of our efforts to maintain and improve the health of the general public, all while controlling health care costs.

"Our program represents the interests of the medical community, the labor movement, environmental health scientists, employers and legislators. I believe this program will have a far-reaching impact on public health."

To register for the online modules go to www.karmanos.org and click the Education tab, Environmental Cancer Program; or call 1-800-KARMANOS for more information.

Located in mid-town Detroit, Michigan, the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute is one of 40 National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the United States. Caring for nearly 6,000 new patients annually on a budget of $216 million, conducting more than 700 cancer-specific scientific investigation programs and clinical trials, Karmanos is among the nation's best cancer centers. Through the commitment of 1,000 staff, including nearly 300 physicians and researchers on faculty at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, and supported by thousands of volunteer and financial donors, Karmanos strives to prevent, detect and eradicate all forms of cancer. Its long-term partnership with the WSU School of Medicine enhances the collaboration of critical research and academics related to cancer care. Karmanos is southeastern Michigan's most preferred hospital for cancer care according to annual surveys conducted by the National Research Corporation. Gerold Bepler, M.D., Ph.D., is the Institute's president and chief executive officer. For more information call 1-800-KARMANOS or go to www.karmanos.org.

SOURCE Karmanos Cancer Institute