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Published on February 27, 2015

Avera Partners with Walking Forward to Prevent Lung Cancer Among American Indians

SIOUX FALLS (Feb. 20, 2015) - Avera announces a new partnership with the Walking Forward program, a South Dakota-based research project that is using innovative ways, such as mobile technology and customized text messages, to promote smoking cessation among American Indians, and ultimately prevent lung cancer deaths.

Walking Forward was started in 2002 by Daniel Petereit, MD, FASTRO, as principal investigator, in partnership with Rapid City Regional Hospital (RCRH) and the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Petereit is a radiation oncologist affiliated with RCRH, and a native of Sioux Falls.

Over the past 12 years, Walking Forward has been involved with improving cancer cure rates and treatment in the American Indian population through various programs, including patient navigation, access to clinical trials and the latest technology, palliative care, and screening for colorectal, cervical, breast and prostate cancer.

Through the new partnership, Walking Forward becomes a program of Avera Health, grant monies will be managed through Avera, and Walking Forward employees become employees of Avera. Dr. Petereit, while working in partnership with Avera on this project, remains in practice at RCRH in Rapid City. Walking Forward will specifically collaborate with Avera’s Molecular and Experimental Medicine Program at the Avera Cancer Institute Sioux Falls.

“Walking Forward was created to address the disparities – or gaps – in cancer care, prevention and outcomes between the American Indian and non-American Indian populations living in the Northern Plains,” said Dr. Petereit. “Cancer for cancer, American Indians present with more advanced stages of cancer, and therefore, experience lower cure rates.”

Walking Forward’s smoking cessation program, “American Indian mHealth Smoking Dependence Study (PQ4),” is funded by a four-year grant through 2016 from the National Cancer Institute. Approximately $1 million remains on the grant. The program provides cell phones so participants can receive tailored text messages, as well as pre- and post-cessation counseling, and nicotine replacement therapy. The study is still enrolling participants, with a goal of 256 adults living on Rosebud and Pine Ridge Indian Reservations and in Rapid City. Currently, approximately 140 are enrolled.

Walking Forward has found that approximately 44 percent of Native Americans on the Northern Plains of South Dakota smoke, compared with 18 percent of all American adults. The average age of smoking a first cigarette is 13.7 among American Indians, younger than most other racial groups in the United States.

A pillar of the program is patient navigators on reservations who are members of those tribes, and can relate to the people and gain their trust. “Navigation through the complexities of the health care system, especially where resources are scarce, is very important. Navigators help patients and families overcome barriers that exist in order to concentrate on their health care and healing,” said Simone Bordeaux, RN, Community Research Representative for Walking Forward at Rosebud.

“Walking Forward continues to work on several fronts to remove barriers to prevention, early detection and state-of-the-art care, ultimately to improve the quality of life and cure rates for American Indian and rural cancer patients,” Dr. Petereit said.

Through Avera’s partnership, greater possibilities exist for access to innovative care, such as personalized medicine through genomic testing, in some patients who qualify.

“Quality cancer care is a continuum that begins with prevention, and continues on through screening for early detection, surgery, evidence-based treatment protocols, clinical trials, survivorship support and palliative care,” said Brian Leyland-Jones, MB BS, PhD, Vice President for Molecular and Experimental Medicine at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center. “Personalized medicine represents cancer care of the future, using genetic sequencing to target therapies to the specific genetic changes that drive a specific tumor.”

Avera’s partnership also provides a link to one of the largest rural networks in the country – the Northern Great Plains Oncology Network. “We’re excited about extending our collaboration through Walking Forward, and look forward to the possibilities as we work together to improve access to high quality cancer care for all residents of our state, including the American Indian population,” said Casey Williams, PharmD, BCOP, Director for Molecular and Experimental Medicine at Avera McKennan.

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