April 15, 2005

VICC bolsters cancer information program

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photo by Dana Johnson

VICC bolsters cancer information program

Since the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center launched its toll-free Cancer Information Program in 1997 the volume of new contacts by phone or e-mail has more than tripled to nearly 3,000 each year.

To accommodate the demand for accurate and up-to-date information about cancer — and specifically studies of new cancer therapies (clinical trials) — the program has added a third oncology nurse.

Combined, the nurses bring to their jobs more than 50 years of experience in the oncology field, working with patients, families, physicians, nurses and other colleagues.

“Even though you don't see the person on the other end of the phone, it really is direct patient care,” said Gloria Cherry, a registered nurse with a bachelor's of science degree, who joined the program in 2003. “I've done it all — bedside nursing, given chemotherapy, nursing management, hospice work. This is the most rewarding job I've ever had.”

Teresa Knoop, who holds a master's degree in nursing, began the program in 1997 with the goal of providing timely and accurate information about cancer therapies and clinical trials to patients, family members, referring physicians and nurses.

At the time, she had spent more than a dozen years in oncology nursing at a community hospital in Nashville and thought she'd retire there. But the opportunity to join one of the country's select few National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers — the only one in Tennessee — and the professional challenge of building a program from scratch proved too attractive to resist.

In the program's first year, Knoop and her then part-time assistant received 916 calls and e-mails. Since then, the volume of new contacts by phone or e-mail has tripled to 2,700-2,800 each year.

Many of these initial contacts require numerous extensive follow-up work, including calls to schedule appointments and access resources.

Earlier this year, Pam Carney, who holds a bachelor's of science in nursing, joined the program to help accommodate the growth in demand. Carney also works half-time as a research clinical specialist, coordinating patient recruitment, treatment and other activities involved in cancer treatment studies.

The three nurses attend several team meetings each week to stay abreast of the 150 clinical trials open at any given time. They maintain a waiting list for the VICC's growing offering of Phase I studies, in which new drugs are given to patients for the very first time, under close and careful scrutiny. They assist patients seeking second opinions, an important step in getting the very best cancer care.

When Vanderbilt-Ingram started the program, its leaders did not want to duplicate quality information services already available to cancer patients. The nurses at VICC work closely with the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Information Service, a toll-free information line that provides general cancer information as well as details about NCI-sponsored clinical trials being conducted across the country.

For information about cancer clinical trials or for assistance with a second opinion from physicians at Vanderbilt-Ingram, Tennessee's only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, or for information about Vanderbilt-Ingram's cancer program, call (800) 811-8480.

For general information about cancer or information about NCI-sponsored clinical trials, call (800) 4CANCER.