A leader in cancer care for central Illinois, James B. Gerstner, MD, found himself on the patient side of cancer care about three months ago at the Suspicion of Cancer Clinic located at Carle Health Methodist Hospital in Peoria.
A low-dose CT scan detected a spot on his lung. Diagnosed with lung cancer, the 77-year-old had part of his lung removed just 10 days later. That was three months ago, and now he continues to enjoy retirement from his work at Illinois CancerCare. Thanks to the Suspicion of Cancer Clinic, things moved quickly from the point of diagnosis to treatment.
“What is changing is we are finding cancer at a point in time where it is not too late,” Dr. Gerstner said.
In 2018, the oncology team conducted research of patients diagnosed with lung cancer within the Greater Peoria area to gain insight on the amount of time it takes a patient to get from abnormal imaging to treatment. The average was 90 days. The Suspicion of Cancer Clinic decreases the number of days to 48.
The focus is on patients with abnormal imaging that shows solid masses, adenopathy, and unintentional weight loss greater than 10 pounds within a short timeframe. Trevella Fleming, RN, navigator at the Suspicion of Cancer Clinic, said it is important for patients to have a baseline scan followed by a yearly screening to identify changes.
Anne Bowman, MBA, Greater Peoria director of Oncology, said the Suspicion of Cancer Clinic sees patients within three to four business days of a referral and gets a diagnosis to the patient within 16 days.
In 2023, 45% of the patients who entered the Suspicion of Cancer Clinic had a malignancy, up from 33% in 2022. This year, care team members are also seeing more rare cancers. In 2023, the clinic helped with a quick diagnosis for three patients who received treatment for appendiceal (lining of appendix) cancer, which is rare.
“We have comprehensive care,” Bowman said. Patients agree the clinic is a blessing and always comment how well-received and supported they feel, she said.
Patients referred to the clinic get support from a team catering to the patient needs. This includes seeing a counselor and social worker at the conclusion of each appointment.
“We want to take the stress off of patients during a time when they may feel a lot of anxiety from the unknown for their diagnosis. Our goal is to help coordinate their care in an expedited manner in order to get them through the system. Aamina Ahmed, DNP-FNP, BSN-RN, said. “We schedule all upcoming imaging ordered at the appointment and get patients a plan of care so they have a timeline of when to expect it.”
Before his diagnosis, Dr. James Gerstner received annual lung screenings over several years at the urging of his son, Gregory Gerstner, MD, a fellow oncologist at Carle Health Methodist Hospital. Trevella Fleming, RN, navigator at the Suspicion of Cancer Clinic, said it is important for patients to have a baseline scan followed by a yearly screening to identify changes.
Dr. James Gerstner spent his career improving cancer care. His vision helped to bring Illinois CancerCare and state-of-the art treatments to rural areas. Illinois CancerCare works in conjunction with Carle Health’s Suspicion of Cancer Clinic in Peoria. Dr. Gerstner credits colleague, Shawn Siebert, MD, with bringing the Suspicion of Cancer Clinic to Peoria.
“There are ways to find cancer early and do something about it,” he said.