Feature

CDC program marks decade of helping to prevent infections among patients with cancer

Lisa C. Richardson, MD, MPH
Lisa C. Richardson

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the CDC Foundation’s Preventing Infections in Cancer Patients program, which provides evidence-based resources for patients, caregivers and health care providers on how to reduce the risk for infections.

During the past decade, the program has developed educational tools in English and Spanish, including a website — www.preventcancerinfections.org — featuring a tool to assess risk for developing neutropenia during chemotherapy.

“As an oncologist and close friend to several cancer survivors, I understand how people dealing with a cancer diagnosis are incredibly overwhelmed with information. If you or someone you love has cancer, I encourage you to stay positive, take it one day at a time, and know the steps you can take to lower your risk for infection during chemotherapy,” Lisa C. Richardson, MD, MPH, director of CDC’s division of cancer prevention and control, said in a CDC blog post.

HemOnc Today spoke with Richardson about this initiative and its achievements during the past decade, the importance of preventing infections among patients with cancer, and what clinicians and patients still need to learn.

Question: Why is this initiative needed ?

Answer: As a medical oncologist, I know patients diagnosed with cancer are overwhelmed with information, not all of which they are able to absorb. This is the main reason we created this program — to help patients understand their risk for infection and steps they can take to ultimately prevent infections. There also were data supporting the need for this program. Almost 1.7 million people are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States, and more than 650,000 of them receive chemotherapy. In 2012, we found that more than 108,000 patients were hospitalized with an infection due to neutropenia and 4,000 died of this complication. When presented with these facts, it was clear something needed to be done.

Q: What are some of the milestones of the initiative during the p ast 10 years?

A: The biggest milestone is that it has been thriving for 10 years and working. Patients with cancer and caregivers report that they understand their risk for neutropenia and infection better after visiting our website. Ten years later, we know the information has been used based on data from our site, which has had more than 1.5 million downloads. The program continues to deliver value to the cancer community.

Q: What are some of the educational tools included in the initiative?

A: In addition to the resources at the website, we have incorporated new virtual human technology. TINA (Training for Infection and Neutropenia Awareness), an interactive tool for patients and providers that’s available as a free mobile app and at the website, aims to improve patient-provider communication. For patients, TINA will ask and answer the user’s questions about infection risk and steps they can take to protect themselves. For providers, TINA allows the user to role-play and practice a conversation with an emotionally responsive and interactive virtual patient. Many of our resources are also available in Spanish, including a Spanish-language version of the website and TINA en Español. There are few Spanish-language resources available on this topic, even though Spanish speakers are the largest group that speak another language in daily life.

Q: Can you explain the importance of preventing infections in patients with cancer?

A: One of the most important things for patients to understand is the impact their treatment can have on their immune system. Chemotherapy can weaken the immune system by lowering the white blood cell count, leading to an increased risk for infection, treatment delays, hospitalizations and sometimes death. According to the latest data published by CDC, infections linked to neutropenia hospitalized more than 100,000 adults and children with cancer in the United States in 2012.

Q: What do clinicians and patients still need to learn?

A: Patients need to know that having cancer and undergoing certain treatments for cancer, like chemotherapy, can put them at higher risk for infection or sepsis. We want providers to know resources are available for them to access at home or anywhere else. Patients and physicians need to stay vigilant and clean their hands frequently, as well as get the flu vaccine. My hope is that providers reading this ensure their clinic has an infection control plan in place so their facility is not unknowingly exposing patients to dangerous infections. If a clinic does not have a plan, I encourage it to use CDC’s Basic Infection Control and Prevention Plan for Outpatient Oncology Settings. This measure, paired with educating patients on infection prevention, will make a difference.

Q: Is there anything else that you would like to mention?

A: The support of family and friends, and education about the risk for infection, are crucial in guiding people with cancer through chemotherapy. During the past decade, I have seen the difference that clearly communicated information can make. Collaborations like the one supporting this program can help us find additional ways to advance cancer prevention and care for cancer survivors nationwide. – by Jennifer Southall

For more information:

Lisa C. Richardson, MD, MPH, can be reached at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1600 Clifton Road, Atlanta, GA 30329; email: lfr8@cdc.gov.

Disclosure: Richardson reports no relevant financial disclosures.

Lisa C. Richardson, MD, MPH
Lisa C. Richardson

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the CDC Foundation’s Preventing Infections in Cancer Patients program, which provides evidence-based resources for patients, caregivers and health care providers on how to reduce the risk for infections.

During the past decade, the program has developed educational tools in English and Spanish, including a website — www.preventcancerinfections.org — featuring a tool to assess risk for developing neutropenia during chemotherapy.

“As an oncologist and close friend to several cancer survivors, I understand how people dealing with a cancer diagnosis are incredibly overwhelmed with information. If you or someone you love has cancer, I encourage you to stay positive, take it one day at a time, and know the steps you can take to lower your risk for infection during chemotherapy,” Lisa C. Richardson, MD, MPH, director of CDC’s division of cancer prevention and control, said in a CDC blog post.

HemOnc Today spoke with Richardson about this initiative and its achievements during the past decade, the importance of preventing infections among patients with cancer, and what clinicians and patients still need to learn.

Question: Why is this initiative needed ?

Answer: As a medical oncologist, I know patients diagnosed with cancer are overwhelmed with information, not all of which they are able to absorb. This is the main reason we created this program — to help patients understand their risk for infection and steps they can take to ultimately prevent infections. There also were data supporting the need for this program. Almost 1.7 million people are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States, and more than 650,000 of them receive chemotherapy. In 2012, we found that more than 108,000 patients were hospitalized with an infection due to neutropenia and 4,000 died of this complication. When presented with these facts, it was clear something needed to be done.

Q: What are some of the milestones of the initiative during the p ast 10 years?

A: The biggest milestone is that it has been thriving for 10 years and working. Patients with cancer and caregivers report that they understand their risk for neutropenia and infection better after visiting our website. Ten years later, we know the information has been used based on data from our site, which has had more than 1.5 million downloads. The program continues to deliver value to the cancer community.

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Q: What are some of the educational tools included in the initiative?

A: In addition to the resources at the website, we have incorporated new virtual human technology. TINA (Training for Infection and Neutropenia Awareness), an interactive tool for patients and providers that’s available as a free mobile app and at the website, aims to improve patient-provider communication. For patients, TINA will ask and answer the user’s questions about infection risk and steps they can take to protect themselves. For providers, TINA allows the user to role-play and practice a conversation with an emotionally responsive and interactive virtual patient. Many of our resources are also available in Spanish, including a Spanish-language version of the website and TINA en Español. There are few Spanish-language resources available on this topic, even though Spanish speakers are the largest group that speak another language in daily life.

Q: Can you explain the importance of preventing infections in patients with cancer?

A: One of the most important things for patients to understand is the impact their treatment can have on their immune system. Chemotherapy can weaken the immune system by lowering the white blood cell count, leading to an increased risk for infection, treatment delays, hospitalizations and sometimes death. According to the latest data published by CDC, infections linked to neutropenia hospitalized more than 100,000 adults and children with cancer in the United States in 2012.

Q: What do clinicians and patients still need to learn?

A: Patients need to know that having cancer and undergoing certain treatments for cancer, like chemotherapy, can put them at higher risk for infection or sepsis. We want providers to know resources are available for them to access at home or anywhere else. Patients and physicians need to stay vigilant and clean their hands frequently, as well as get the flu vaccine. My hope is that providers reading this ensure their clinic has an infection control plan in place so their facility is not unknowingly exposing patients to dangerous infections. If a clinic does not have a plan, I encourage it to use CDC’s Basic Infection Control and Prevention Plan for Outpatient Oncology Settings. This measure, paired with educating patients on infection prevention, will make a difference.

Q: Is there anything else that you would like to mention?

A: The support of family and friends, and education about the risk for infection, are crucial in guiding people with cancer through chemotherapy. During the past decade, I have seen the difference that clearly communicated information can make. Collaborations like the one supporting this program can help us find additional ways to advance cancer prevention and care for cancer survivors nationwide. – by Jennifer Southall

For more information:

Lisa C. Richardson, MD, MPH, can be reached at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1600 Clifton Road, Atlanta, GA 30329; email: lfr8@cdc.gov.

Disclosure: Richardson reports no relevant financial disclosures.