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St. Charles Cancer Center’s new Pulmonary Nodule Clinic – set to launch next month – will contribute to the health system’s mission: creating America’s healthiest community together.

That’s because the clinic’s primary goal is simple but life-changing, said Dr. Linyee Chang, a radiation oncologist at St. Charles and medical director of the cancer center.

“We’re trying to catch cancers earlier,” Chang said. “In looking at our practice patterns for lung cancer, we’re actually diagnosing cancers earlier than the national average. But we can do better.”

She continued: “When we identify cancers earlier, that leads to improved cure rates with less treatment and fewer side effects, less overall cost to the health system and, ultimately, better outcomes for the patient and the community.”

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Central Oregon, Chang said. The new clinic will create a formal process to follow patients with lung nodules, some of which may progress to become lung cancers.

In the past, there was no established process in place to ensure someone followed up on a pulmonary nodule discovered while the patient received acute care, Chang said. As a result, they sometimes went untreated until the patient came back to the hospital later with advanced cancer.

“We all have those cases where we look at a scan and say, ‘Ugh, there it was a couple years ago,’” Chang said. “Those are opportunities.”

The Pulmonary Nodule Clinic addresses this gap by using Central Oregon Radiology Associates software to identify imaging reports that note a nodule of concern and to add a note that the patient is eligible for referral to the clinic by telephone call or via Epic, the health system’s electronic health record.

Once the Pulmonary Nodule Clinic is operational, patients will see a pulmonary nurse practitioner on their initial visit and will receive education regarding the significance of pulmonary nodules, lifestyle strategies to reduce the risk of lung cancer, appropriate follow-up imaging on any identified abnormalities and an appointment with a smoking cessation counselor if they are a smoker. Even if the patient doesn’t have cancer, enrollment in this clinic provides an educational opportunity to improve health by encouraging healthy behaviors, Chang said.

“Providers who don’t have the time to follow lung nodules can be assured their patients are in good hands,” Chang said. “And for this patient population, we’re coming alongside them and saying, ‘Here’s what’s happening with you and how we can help you get healthier. We’re here for you.’”

St. Charles Cancer Center developed the Pulmonary Nodule Clinic in partnership with Central Oregon Radiology Associates, St. Charles Thoracic Surgery, St. Charles Pulmonology and Summit Medical Group. For more information, call 541-706-6729 or visit https://www.stcharleshealthcare.org/services/cancer-care.