GREENFIELD — Carrie Addison always hated the smell of cigarettes. Wouldn’t have thought of smoking them.
The Greenfield woman could barely believe it then, she said, when the doctor diagnosed her with adenocarcinoma and told her what that meant in her case: she had lung cancer.
That was November 2016, the tail end of the year lung cancer became the most commonly treated cancer in Hancock County.
The Greenfield-based Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center treated nearly 200 patients last year, including about a dozen transferred from other cancer centers. The most commonly treated cancers at the facility are lung, breast, colorectal and prostate cancers, as well as leukemia and lymphoma, comprising nearly 70 percent of cancer patients treated in 2016, records show.
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Last year, 42 of those patients came with diagnoses of lung cancer — up from 24 in 2014.
Addison remembers doctor after doctor asking if she smoked when she was first diagnosed. She never had — her grandparents died of lung cancer related to smoking, preventing her from ever picking up the habit.
“I was very shocked,” said Addison, 56. “It was weird to hear, ‘You have lung cancer.'”
While the number of lung cancer patients treated at the center is rising, Hancock County maintains a lower number of adult smokers than the state average — 15 percent in the county, compared to 21 percent statewide — according to County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, an online database measuring communities’ overall health through health-related statistics.
And that number has decreased 7 percentage points since 2011, records show.
It’s hard to pinpoint how the county smoking rate relates to the number of people treated at the cancer center, since the facility treats patients from a large swath of east central Indiana, not only county residents, said director Linda Zerr.
Eyeing the county’s dropping percentage of smokers and rising percentage of lung cancer patients, Zerr suspects people at risk of developing lung diseases aren’t being screened when they ought to be.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a yearly scan for people between 55 and 80 years old who have a history of heavy smoking, as well as for those who still smoke or who have quit in the last 15 years.
The percentage of adult smokers dropping could result in lower lung cancer rates long term — though those effects might not be seen for decades, Zerr said.
Low-cost events like the annual Heartbeats Health Fair are a great time for people to be tested for any abnormalities, Zerr said.
Addison visits the cancer center every three weeks for what doctors call maintenance chemotherapy, because her type of cancer can be treated but not cured, she said.
Support from family has been essential to keep her spirits up during the infusions, which can be long and mundane — Addison whiles away the hours listening to music, doing word searches, or chatting with family members who often come with her to appointments.
For Addison, the cause of her cancer is a mystery.
Dennis Ailes, on the other hand, can point to just where his started. The 66-year-old Greenfield man lost count of the number of times over 40 years he tried to quit smoking before he finally kicked the habit.
He still remembers the day: on July 4, 2007, he read a flier that said if he could keep from smoking for 10 years, his chances of getting lung cancer would be the same as if he’d never started. And so, he quit for good. Now, he jokes he just missed the cutoff.
Nine years and six months after he threw out his last pack of cigarettes, Ailes learned he had lung cancer after visiting the doctor for a cough that wouldn’t go away.
Maintaining his sense of humor has been crucial for Ailes, he says, as he battles the disease.
Hospital officials say they’ll continue to do all they can to lessen county residents’ chances of developing lung cancer — and that includes making it easier for people like Ailes to drop the habit for good, said Brandee Bastin, the hospital’s tobacco initiatives coordinator.
An electronic referral program launched in June to quickly connect patients throughout the Hancock Health system with help to quit smoking. Whether a patient walks into urgent care or stays at the hospital for a surgery, nurses ask if they use tobacco and if they want to quit. If the answer is yes, a referral is sent automatically to the Indiana Tobacco Quitline, a free, phone-based counseling service, and the Quitline reaches out to patients directly, Bastin said.
The new referral system is available in addition to Hancock Health’s Commit to Quit, a four-week program aimed at helping people end their tobacco use. Bastin this year established a new incentive for people who attend the entire program: the class cost is $40, but individuals who complete the classes will receive $50, a $10 return on their investment in their health.
The cancer center keeps data on the patients being treated, and they, too, watch for trends in disease.
“Right now, we’re treating more people for advanced stages of lung cancer than we would like to,” Zerr said.
The Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center at Hancock Regional Hospital provides surgical, chemotherapy and radiation options for cancer treatment.
In 2016, the types of cancer treated most often were:
Breast: 21 percent
Lung: 22 percent
Colorectal: 8 percent
Leukemia and lymphoma: 7 percent
Prostate: 9 percent
Pancreas: 4 percent
Source: Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center records
Commit to Quit Tobacco Cessation Group
Percentage of smokers
Hancock County: 15 percent of adults smoke
Indiana: 21 percent of adults smoke
Lung cancer rate, 2008-2012
Count: 312 individuals
Rate: 82.8 per 100,000
Count: 25,837 individuals
Rate 73.9 per 100,000
Sources: Indiana State Department of Health; County Health Ranking and Roadmaps