Less than two weeks ago, a thoroughbred named Rich Strike won the Kentucky Derby with longshot odds of 80-1. His win was the second biggest longshot victory in the history of the race. No one including myself expected him to do particularly well, much less win.
But odds alone don’t tell the whole story. A lot of factors went into Rich Strike’s victory. His owners, trainers and jockey all put in hours of hard work. There were certainly environmental factors at play as well. All of this combined helped crown an unlikely Derby champion.
In medicine, we know surprises like this happen every day. The odds of a patient’s recovery or survival never tell the whole story. Lung cancer has long been a disease that many Kentuckians automatically think of as fatal. Many times, the patient’s personal factors, like a history of tobacco use, cause the disease. This often leads patients to a dark place where they don’t expect to “win.”
It’s understandable. Lung cancer can be very scary. However, as in horse racing, the odds don’t tell the whole story. And I’m encouraged that the odds associated with lung cancer in Kentucky are improving.
While we still sit at the bottom of the list as far as new cases, that rate is steadily falling, improving by 11% over the last five years. Our five-year survival rate is increasing as well, trending up by 14% since 2018. New treatments and early detection have been instrumental in moving these numbers in the right direction.
However, in order to really move the needle, our patients need to know what they can do to prevent disease and keep their lungs healthy before something happens. That’s why I’ve been so proud to spearhead the KMA, KFMC and Anthem Foundation’s “Breathe Better Kentucky” initiative over the course of my presidency.
Breathe Better Kentucky aims to educate our patients on the steps they can take to improve their overall lung health and prevent diseases like lung cancer, COPD, and COVID-19. The campaign has had a tremendous impact so far, reaching tens of thousands of Kentuckians through our streaming service ads, social media, op-eds and news stories, and through our sponsorship of “Fighting to Breathe: Lung Health in Kentucky” on KET. That program saw more than 50,000 viewers during its premiere, with thousands more watching online. If you haven’t had a chance already, I’d encourage you to watch and share with your patients at ket.org/breathe. I was also excited to moderate a virtual CME series for physicians, “The State of Lung Cancer in Kentucky,” which brought together experts in this disease from around the country to share the latest in treatment technology and how we can continue to improve survival rates and quality of life for our patients.
While there’s still more work to be done through this campaign, I’m proud of the impact we’ve had so far, and of the KMA members who have made so much of this possible. As a pulmonologist, I work against the odds every day, as I know all of you do as well in your respective specialties. We all look forward to more days where the “upsets” become more frequent and we can crown more patients as “winners” over their disease. Thank you for being a KMA member and helping improve the odds for all Kentuckians.