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Feature Story

Healthy Lifestyle, Early Detection and Seamless Care All Help Fight Cancer

February 17, 2016



An older couple chatting with a physician

A lifestyle focused on good health and physicians focused on early detection: At Kaiser Permanente, members benefit from both when it comes to cancer prevention.

“Research shows that as much as 80 percent of cancer can be linked to lifestyle,” said Joanne Schottinger, MD, clinical lead for cancer for Kaiser Permanente’s Care Management Institute. “If you don’t smoke, drink only in moderation, eat right, exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight, you can greatly reduce your risk for developing cancer.”

Kaiser Permanente physicians and other care provides promote the total health of members by regularly assessing risk factors and providing services and tools for achieving total health. The organization offers smoking cessation classes and medications, nutritional counseling, weight management programs and other health education opportunities to help members thrive.

Grandmother says life saved by screening

Sherry Jansma with her grandson, March 2014 Care Story

Sherry Jansma with her grandson

At first, San Diego native Sherry Jansma paid no mind to the Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) that Kaiser Permanente mailed to her house to screen for colon cancer. After all, her previous screening tests had come back clear, and she had no family history of cancer.

After a few days, Sherry reminded herself that Kaiser Permanente recommends adults age 50 and older should complete the FIT every two years. She mailed in her test.

When the FIT results came back positive, Sherry opted for a follow-up colonoscopy. During the procedure, Kaiser Permanente physician Daniel “Stony” Anderson, MD, found a large polyp that tested positive for stage 0 colon cancer.

Because Sherry’s cancerous polyp was caught so early, Kaiser Permanente doctors were able to remove it before it impacted her health. Sherry was able to rid her body of cancer without chemotherapy or radiation. “I have got lots of energy,” Sherry said. “I know my life was saved.”

Watch Sherry’s story »

Early detection, better outcomes

According to the American Cancer Society, early detection of cancer through screenings has been determined to save lives. Kaiser Permanente members receive regular screenings for a variety of cancers, including cancer of the lung, colon, prostate, breast and cervix. In 2015, Kaiser Permanente’s Medicare and commercial plans received the top ranking from the National Committee for Quality Assurance for breast cancer screening in all the regions the organization serves.

“Catching cancer early, or better yet before it develops, is key to fighting the disease,” said Dr. Schottinger. “For instance, in the case of colon cancer, a screening colonoscopy can also be used to remove pre-cancerous polyps. In another example, Pap smears help us identity pre-cancerous cells that can be removed to protect against cervical cancer.”

When Kaiser Permanente physicians detect cancer, they employ the latest treatment options to combat the disease as quickly as possible. The organization’s integrated model maximizes coordinated care, with members benefiting from the latest technology and protocols.

To makes sure patients receive the safest and most effective chemotherapy, cancer care teams use a module of Kaiser Permanente’s electronic health record that provides dosage and treatment protocols. The system is constantly updated with recommendations from cancer experts from throughout the organization as well as results from the latest clinical trials.

Closing care gaps

Kaiser Permanente’s medical professionals are dedicated to making sure that patients don’t fall through gaps that can develop between cancer screening and necessary follow-up care.

With the KP SureNet program, Kaiser Permanente’s integrated electronic health record, centralized staff and outreach procedures are used to identify outpatients with potential care gaps — such as abnormal results from a cancer screening or the use of certain medications — and follow up in a timely manner or conduct appropriate monitoring.

“We want to make sure that every cancer screening is followed up when the results require further testing or treatment,” said Ronald K. Loo, MD, regional chief of urology, Southern California Permanente Medical Group. “One of the biggest challenges for any health care organization is making sure that the patient understands the results of their tests, that their doctors communicate next steps, and that there is a system in place that ensures those steps are taken. That’s what SureNet is all about.”

Dr. Loo has helped lead an effort in Southern California that has resulted in improved outcomes for patients by making sure that men are appropriately screened and treated for prostate cancer. Since 2003, the program has identified 9,381 men with an elevated screening serum prostate-specific antigen (or PSA) level who had not been evaluated by a urologist within 12 weeks of receiving results. Of these men, 3,377 received a biopsy procedure and about one-third of these men were diagnosed with prostate cancer.

“We make sure the loop gets closed,” said Dr. Loo. “Not every man who is diagnosed with prostate cancer needs treatment because it can be a slow-growing cancer and treatment can have negative side effects. But prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death among men. It’s important that men with an elevated PSA level are evaluated by a urologist, have their levels monitored, and understand their treatment options.”

For more information on cancer prevention, go to kp.org.