Cancer sucks.

And driving an hour to receive weekly cancer treatments – and driving back an hour after – also sucks.

That will no longer be an inevitability for residents of Hart County.

The Medical Center at Caverna is now offering chemotherapy treatments to folks with cancer in the area.

“They won’t be spending an hour on the road traveling, sometimes in bad weather, to get a treatment that they can get 10 minutes from home,” said Dr. Rishi Agarwal, an oncologist at The Medical Center who will administer chemotherapy treatments every Wednesday morning at Caverna.

Patients can easily get treatment and then get on with their life, he added.

Eventually, this could improve the community’s health.

Kentucky has both the highest rate of new cancer diagnoses each year as well as the highest rate of cancer deaths in the nation. Lung cancer is by far the most common cause of cancer death – with a rate of 64.3 per 100,000 people in 2015 – followed by female breast and male prostate cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Hart County, the age-adjusted rate of cancer deaths was 245 per 100,000 people from 2011 to 2015. The state average was 198, according to the Kentucky Cancer Registry.

“It’s currently one of the most underserved communities in Kentucky,” said Agarwal, who joined The Medical Center in 2016. “We see the whole spectrum of cancer patients. … Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers due to the smoking behavior in this area and lack of screening practices.”

Agarwal postulates that the physical distance to treatment is a significant barrier. He has encountered older patients without the means of transportation or family available to spend nearly a full day traveling and waiting in a hospital.

“Sometimes this can affect their decision to get cancer treatment,” Agarwal said.

After witnessing this dilemma, Agarwal spent six months collaborating with the hospital, nurses, pharmacists and administrative staff to bring chemotherapy to Horse Cave. Beyond simply finding a room and obtaining the equipment, they had to overcome numerous inspections and regulations, and find a local pharmacist to prepare the treatments.

“It was not easy,” Agarwal said.

But worth it. “Right now, we’re just getting started,” he said.

Cancer patients in need of treatment may contact The Medical Center at Caverna for a consultation, during which a medical professional would review the individual case to determine if the patient is a good candidate for chemotherapy. Agarwal reminds folks that emergency room services will be available if complications related to treatment were to arise.

– Follow reporter Caroline Eggers on Twitter @eggersdailynews or visit bgdailynews.com.

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