When Matthew Steliga, M.D., arrived at UAMS 10 years ago, he faced an uphill battle.
Lung cancer rates in the state were skyrocketing, with an estimated 2,160 Arkansans losing their lives to the disease in 2009 alone. As UAMS’ only surgeon dedicated to the treatment of lung cancer, Steliga jumped in headfirst and began building a team to tackle this statewide health crisis.
A decade later, his leadership is making an impact on the lives of Arkansans and helping turn the tide on lung cancer survivorship in the state.
For his efforts, Steliga was named the 2019 Distinguished Honoree by the volunteer auxiliary of the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute. The award was presented May 16 during a luncheon at the home of Peyton and Bill Woodyard.
“With Dr. Steliga’s leadership, the Cancer Institute now has an excellent team dedicated to addressing lung cancer and tobacco addiction in Arkansas,” said Laura Hutchins, M.D., interim director of the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.
Steliga serves as chief of the Division of Thoracic Surgery and associate professor of surgery in the UAMS College of Medicine.
“For too many Arkansans, lung cancer is caught in the late stages, preventing them from receiving treatment that could offer a cure. At UAMS, we’re working to change that one person at a time,” said Steliga.
According to the American Cancer Society, the death rate from lung and bronchus cancer in Arkansas has dropped by about 200 annually between 2009-2019. However, diagnosis rates in the state continue to rise, going from about 2,580 new cases in 2009 to an estimated 2,690 in 2019.
Under Steliga’s leadership, new programs at UAMS address these statistics through early detection of lung cancer and tobacco cessation.
The Freedom from Smoking program offers intensive, short-term group sessions for those who want to quit smoking, and one-on-one support is provided to patients during their clinic appointments. Tobacco cessation programs also are offered specifically for UAMS employees.
A lung cancer screening program using low-dose CT scans to detect lung cancer in high-risk patients has screened more than 2,000 people, of which about 2%-3% were found to have the disease.
“Even after undergoing lung cancer screening and understanding their risk factors, about two-thirds of people still have a hard time quitting smoking. Our tobacco cessation specialists are helping them get over that hurdle,” Steliga said.
A graduate of the Medical College of Wisconsin, Steliga completed his internship and residency at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, followed by a residency in cardiothoracic surgery at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston.
Before arriving at UAMS, he served as instructor in the Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
“I couldn’t accomplish any of these goals without the people beside me, each of whom is dedicated to excellence in our field. What we must remind ourselves, though, is that excellence is not a destination. It is a constant effort to push the boundaries of what is possible,” he said.
The Cancer Institute Auxiliary is one of Arkansas’ largest volunteer organizations with almost 500 members dedicated to providing information, service, compassion and hope to those whose lives are touched by cancer. Each year, the auxiliary selects a faculty or staff member at the Cancer Institute to honor for his or her dedication to the institute’s mission.
Janie Lowe serves as director of the UAMS Cancer Institute Department of Volunteer Services and Auxiliary. Jake Eddington was the auxiliary’s 2017-2018 president.