August 10, 2015
(The following blog was originally posted on MedpageToday on August 3, 2015. It is reprinted here with permission.)
Genomics and its impact on clinical medicine appear to be the topics du jour. The science is rapidly advancing, but our ability to understand and apply that science may not be keeping pace. The question is whether expectations will meet the promise, and are we wise enough to navigate the maelstrom and bring true benefit to our patients and consumers in general?
Three recent research reports highlight how fast some of this discovery is moving. Two reports focused on the use of cell-free DNA fragments extracted from the blood and saliva to identify cancer related markers in patients with pancreatic and head and neck cancer. The other reported discordance in DNA from mothers and their fetuses discovered when prenatal blood tests were done, again using cell-free DNA. In short, the researchers reported on situations where a prenatal screen showed abnormal DNA, the fetus was tested and showed normal DNA which then led to the discovery of cancer in the mother.
To be certain, there are many similar research reports. But they all point in the direction that we are soon going to be facing the challenge of determining how to apply this technology to the everyday practice of medicine, and cancer care specifically. The reality -- as emphasized in the reports -- is that this is early stage science, and not ready for prime time. But the question remains: will others try to exploit these findings and make claims beyond what the science will support?
The question is not so far-fetched. It is happening already.More...
June 02, 2015
When it comes to personalized/precision medicine we should never forget it's all about the people, particularly the cancer survivors whose very lives depend on us getting it done quickly and getting it right.
That was the message from a discussion I had the privilege to moderate on Monday evening with cancer survivors and representatives of advocacy organizations, professional associations, government agencies, and industry at a session held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), now wrapping up in Chicago.
There has been an incredible amount of big science presented at this meeting that relates very directly to the care we provide cancer patients. Some of that science has immediate application to cancer care. On several occasions, acknowledged experts opined in front of thousands of physicians, other scientists, and health professionals that new treatments-particularly immunotherapy-were new standards of care in the management of patients with certain cancers.
Running in parallel to the development of new approaches to the treatment of cancer is the science that is helping to define and personalize which patients would benefit most from which treatments. As an example, for the new immunotherapy drugs there are biomarkers that may eventually predict who is going to respond better to which medicine. And frequently during the research presentations there was evidence that the more a cancer cell had mutated the more likely it was to respond to these new drugs.
But it was the survivors who touched my heart, my thoughts and my hopes.More...
May 30, 2015
Question: What do all these cancers have in common: Melanoma, lung, kidney, bladder, ovarian, head and neck, Hodgkin lymphoma, stomach, breast (and others)?
Answer: They have all shown evidence of meaningful, durable responses when treated with one or more of the new immunotherapy drugs. And that is truly amazing-not to mention very unexpected, even by the experts who know this stuff.
That's the message that is coming out of the 2015 annual scientific meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, where thousands of doctors, researchers and others from around the world make the annual trek to Chicago to share and learn the latest advances in cancer treatment.
The journey to this point has been fascinating. More...
May 29, 2015
It was the title of an article in JAMA Oncology that captured my attention this past week: "Advancing a Quality-of-Life Agenda in Cancer Advocacy: Beyond the War Metaphor." That and, the fact that two of the authors (Rebecca Kirch and Otis Brawley) are my colleagues from the American Cancer Society.
As the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) convenes its annual scientific meeting in Chicago--where thousands of participants from around the world gather to learn about the latest advances in cancer research and treatment--we should not lose sight of the fact that the quality of life for patients during cancer treatment and survival is a critical part of what we must address as part of a holistic approach to the cancer care paradigm.
For decades cancer prevention and treatment has focused on the war metaphor: fight cancer, beat cancer, fight hard, whatever. The reality is that not infrequently people do everything right and they still die from this dread disease. Does that mean they didn't fight hard enough? I don't think so, and I suspect many of you agree.
But there is a yawning gap, and that is that we don't pay as much attention to the quality of life of cancer patients, their families and those who care for them. We can and must do better. That is the core of the message my colleagues delivered in their article. More...
April 24, 2015
It's a headline that I suspect many thought would never be written, but it was-in the New Orleans Advocate on April 22:
"Harrah's Casino in New Orleans gives patrons lollipops as it introduces smoking ban"
Six months ago, there weren't many who thought this could happen, that the City Council of New Orleans would pass and the Mayor would sign a smoke-free bar and casino ordinance in New Orleans. But pass it they did, and now it's the law.
The lesson from this incredible feat is that when we are committed to making our lives healthier and safer we can make it happen. It may be through smoke-free legislation or it may be through increasing tobacco taxes. But these laws and regulations make a difference for so many, from workers who work in these establishments, to those who patronize them and to those entertain us there such as the musicians in New Orleans, who were so much a part of making this happen.
However, we can't forget that while successes are wonderful to celebrate much remains to be done. And that is why I continue to work closely with the Society's advocacy affiliate, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) to advocate for proven tobacco control measures that will help people quit and discourage kids from ever picking up the deadly habit. More...
January 30, 2015
This blog was originally published on the Medpage Today website on January 22, 2015. It is reposted here with permission.
Are we prepared for the genomics revolution?
The President's proposed Precision Medicine Initiative as mentioned in his recent State of the Union address suggests it's probably time to get ready for some changes in our daily routines as health professionals.
I'm not talking about the incredible information that has already been produced by researchers examining the human genome. Nor am I referring to the work that is going on in major cancer centers and elsewhere exploring how to better match patients with genomic analyses of their cancers, for example.
And I am not talking about the advances in targeted therapies associated with diagnostic tests that can help guide the treatment of patients with a variety of cancers including but not limited to lung and breast cancers as examples.
No, I am asking whether we are prepared to usher in the new era of medical practice where genomic analyses in one form or another will be a part of our everyday medical practice. It's not just about cancer, my friends. It will be coming to a primary care practice near you probably sooner than you realize -- but it is coming. More...
January 15, 2015
Let's call it the Battle of New Orleans, 2015.
As I write this, I am traveling from a meeting of the New Orleans City Council where testimony was heard regarding a new ordinance which would prohibit smoking in the city's famed bars and the local casino.
As noted by Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell-who is the lead sponsor of the bill and who chaired the meeting--at the end of the hearing, it is a topic which has certainly engendered a lot of discussion among the residents of this iconic American city. Even when sitting in the airport the morning after the meeting I happened to overhear a gentleman near me intensely discussing the merits of the recommendations on the phone with a friend.
But loudest among the many voices were the sweet sounds that came from the musicians who provided testimony to the Council. There was no opposition from the music world: these artists earn their living inhaling the smoke of others, and they came out loud and clear about the need and benefit of being able to provide us entertainment in a healthier, smoke-free environment. As one of them noted a performer doesn't have to consume a bit of every alcoholic beverage served all night long. But when you smoke in my face, I have no option but to take it in.More...
November 06, 2014
What if you were sitting in the room with some of the best financial and scientific minds in the country and someone asked how many of you would be willing to contribute a modest sum of money to create a company with the potential of speeding up the evaluation of drugs that could revolutionize cancer treatment?
That was the opening question of a fascinating meeting I attended recently at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one where I didn't want to leave my seat for a moment for fear I would miss another thought-provoking comment or idea.
The meeting was called CanceRX 2014, and for two solid days about 300 participants listened, debated, and engaged in discussion on how to make that scenario happen. No small task, to be certain. But in this era of ever increasing research discoveries of new treatment targets, it is clear that we need some innovative thinking to take what we learn in the laboratory to the bedsides of the patients we care for. And to make that happen we need as much "out of the box" thinking as we can muster. More...
October 13, 2014
With a dedication and thanks to Carolyn for her passion about the impact of smoking, especially on our youth.
You never know when something special is going to happen, as in one of those times when you just wish you had a camera rolling to capture a moment, a comment, a statement about the way the world is--and the way the world could be.
This past weekend my wife and I were attending a meeting in Baltimore when we had one of those moments. Nothing complicated, just very interesting--and very informative in so many ways.
It was at a convenience store near our hotel. We had gone out to get some things for the room, and when we got to the store there were a number of young men sitting on the stoop at the entrance to the store. Maybe 5 or 6 total, about 12 or 13 years old, dressed for school, sitting and enjoying the day.
They were just chatting, and when we asked to be able to open the door to the store they immediately moved aside. But what I wanted to say and didn't say to one of them who was puffing away on one of those thin cigars trying to look very cool was that maybe they just shouldn't be smoking. Maybe I could send a soft message of concern, maybe it would register, probably wouldn't. But I am an older man, and I thought to myself that they probably wouldn't care what I thought. So into the store we went.
No sooner did we get inside than this whirling dervish of a woman, about (maybe) 5 feet three inches in height rushed past us. The best way to explain what we saw and heard was that store clerk giving those young men what ended up as a bit of a tongue lashing. It started as a request they remove themselves from the stoop and not block the entrance, but then she saw the cigar and it was action time. More...
September 30, 2014
I had an interesting day this past week. Sadly, it left me wondering why the same "hope and hype" directed at cancer patients and their families decades ago when I started my oncology career was still alive and well today. But then, maybe I am the naïve one to think that anything should have really changed.
In the morning I found out that a story I had been interviewed for a story which appeared on the Kaiser Health News website. A discussion about proton beam therapy for cancer (PBT), it basically pointed out that insurers aren't necessarily paying for the treatment and that the information supporting its use is not as definitive as some would hope or claim.
Not long after, I was informed of an online discussion on Twitter (called a "tweet chat" at #protonbeam) being hosted by a major medical institution and a well-known weekly newsmagazine on the very topic of proton beam therapy, or PBT. What I watched unfold over the hour-long discussion was what I call a "scrum" of doctors and public relations people promoting proton beam therapy as the answer to many cancer treatment dilemmas with nary a word about the limitations of our knowledge or potential problems with the treatment. It was all about "we can do it, call us and we will tell you how good we are, and insurers won't pay us." Simply stated, the "conversation" seemed to be glancing by some of the inconvenient facts surrounding what has become another poster story for how we develop and promote new treatments in medicine, let alone cancer care. More...