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Doctor seeks to keep patients close to home

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Jay Manikkam

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Monday, April 22, 2019

For most, a road trip is something to look forward to; something that leads to an adventure of some sort.

For cancer patients, a road trip doesn’t always lead to something good.

Studies have shown that patients who have to travel more than 50 miles for initial diagnosis or weeks of treatments have lower cases of positive outcome than patients who receive treatment at a cancer treatment center within a smaller travel radius.

One oncologist at the Nash UNC Health Care Danny Talbott Cancer Center agrees that having a local cancer treatment center greatly influences the outcome of cancer treatment.

Dr. Jay Manikkam has been at the Danny Talbott Cancer Center for almost a year and feels the comprehensive cancer care available to Twin Counties residents can have a big impact on local cancer outcomes.

“When you have your family nearby to help as caretakers and to be a support system, it can really improve the way a patient approaches their treatment and the patient’s mental health during diagnosis, treatment plans and treatment regimens,” Manikkam said.

Manikkam said many cancer patients throughout the U.S. have to travel hundreds of miles for diagnosis and treatment.

“This distance can cause a later stage at diagnosis and create a burden to appropriate treatment,” Manikkam said.

And having family and friends around you during a cancer experience can make a rough time seem better.

“After a cancer diagnosis, a typical patient will do better with a support system. And when a patient can stay in their hometown or local region and not have to travel hundreds of miles for treatment, this takes a lot of added stress off the patient and caretaker,” he added.

Manikkam, originally from India, completed his residency in Internal Medicine at Abington Jefferson Health in Abington, Pa., and his fellowship in hematology and oncology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Neb. He treats all cancer, but specializes in breast and colon cancer treatment.

A 2015 study in The Oncologist, a peer-reviewed journal for oncologists and hematologists, concluded that distance from a cancer treatment center does influence cancer treatment outcomes. The study showed increasing travel requirements are associated with more advanced disease at diagnosis, inappropriate treatment, a worse prognosis and a worse quality of life.

These results suggested that clinical oncologists should remember the specific travel burden problem for cancer patients, who often need health care services every week or every month for many years.

Manikkam believes the Danny Talbott Cancer Center is an ideal model given its affiliation with UNC and the resources available to local patients.

“I was very attracted to his job because I wanted to offer medical services in a smaller locale, where the need is great, but I have access to the same resources — like research, longtime doctors in the field and the rapidly evolving treatment options — that you would get at UNC-Chapel Hill Hospital.”

Manikkam said he also likes how the staff in the Danny Talbott Cancer Center can better communicate with each other, since they’re all in one building.

“It makes us more efficient,” Manikkam said.

One local patient, S. W. Wooten, has been receiving his infusions for several months and says the infusion bays are twice the size of the ones at Rex.

“I could go anywhere for this treatment, but I’ve chosen Nash. The people are always friendly and nice to me, and they take care of me.”

Manikkam checks in with Wooten before his infusions to check on side effects, review labs and look for any changes that need to be made to the infusion.

“It’s easy to see that Dr. Manikkam cares about people and that his heart is in his work,” Wooten said.

“And he knows his stuff,” he added.

Sterling Grimes, director of Cancer Services at Nash UNC Health Care, has seen first-hand the impact Manikkam has on his patients and has been impressed with his empathy for those he’s treating.

“Dr. Manikkam has a deep passion for community medicine, shows great compassion and support for his patients and is a valuable addition to our cancer treatment team,” Grimes said. “He has a desire to treat the whole person, is always advocating for the patient, and meets them wherever they are in their fight against cancer.”

Manikkam said, like most everyone, his family has been touched by a loved one diagnosed with cancer.

“Great strides have been made and there have been really impressive advances in the last five years,” he said.

Manikkam added that preventive measures and early diagnosis efforts, like PAP tests, colonoscopies, self-breast exams and mammograms, are the most important things people can do to fight cancer.

“The biggest obstacle to surviving cancer is a late diagnosis,” Manikkam said.

Named in honor of Rocky Mount’s athletic legend and cancer survivor, Danny Talbott, the 11,000-square-foot Danny Talbott Cancer Center facility opened in 2018 and houses cancer services under one roof — diagnostic imaging, radiation therapy, and infusion therapy, hospice and palliative care, navigation, nutrition support, financial counseling, genetic counseling, clinical research and social work services.

UNC Cancer Care at Nash had offered services since 2015, with treatment facilities located across the Nash UNC Health Care campus.

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