Dr. Len's Cancer Blog

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Dr. Len's Cancer Blog

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Genomic Testing Reaches The Clinic: How Much Is Hope--And How Much Is Hype?

by Dr. Len 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...

Genomics May Be The New Frontier, But Knowing Your Family Medical History Is Still Very Important

by Dr. Len July 29, 2015

It's no secret that genomics is cutting edge science. It is exciting, it is changing the way we think about ourselves and the medical care we receive. But with all the "gee whiz" aspects of what we are discovering every day about our genetic code, it may be surprising to learn that one of the most important parts of our new tool kit may be sitting right there in front of us gathering more dust than attention.

This revelation came while attending a conference this past week sponsored by a group called HL7. HL7 develops standards for the exchange, integration, sharing, and retrieval of electronic health information in the healthcare setting. They convened this particular meeting to better understand how we can more effectively integrate genomic data into health care delivery and research so we can full advantage of the information from genomic-derived science that is coming at us like a tsunami. 

What stood out amidst all of the topics discussed-and what achieved the greatest consensus among the conferees-was the role that the tried-and-true basic family history can play in helping us understand how the information provided by genomics fits together with real life. That's correct: the old fashioned family history that you occasionally fill out in the doctor's office that neither you nor your health professional usually pay much attention to.

Perhaps that needs to change.More...

The Survivors And Advocates Highlight That Personalized Medicine Is About All Of Us

by Dr. Len 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...

Is It Time For Precision/Personalized Medicine?

by Dr. Len January 30, 2015

This blog was originally published on the Medpage Today website on January 22, 2015. It is reposted here with permission.

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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...

CanceRX 2014: We Need Innovative Approaches To Support Cancer Drug Development

by Dr. Len 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...

Breast Cancer Awareness Is About More Than Mammograms: What You Need To Know

by Dr. Len October 02, 2014

It's October and that means we are about to see a lot of pink for the next 31 days. And virtually all of the work comes down to one simple -some might say overly simple-message: get a mammogram.

But as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM), begins, I find myself one again asking some difficult questions: Are we really looking at the right side of the equation? Is it all about mammograms? Is there more to the story? The answer is absolutely unequivocal and without a moments hesitation: YES! More...

Is It Too Much To Expect More Balance When Discussing Proton Beam Therapy For Cancer Patients?

by Dr. Len 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...

Cancer and the Latino Community: Lessons Learned

by Dr. Len July 24, 2014

I had the privilege this week to serve as the keynote speaker for the 4th Summit sponsored by Latinas Contra Cancer-an organization founded and led by Ysabel Duron, a formidable cancer survivor and news media presence in San Francisco.

Bringing together members of the Latino community, researchers, community health workers, promotores (more on that later) and advocates, the summit focused on the issues facing the Latino community in increasing awareness, access to care, improved treatment and research opportunities among other topics. But what was most impressive was the spirit, engagement and commitment that permeated the room for the two days of the meeting.

I would like to share with you some of what I learned during the preparation for that lecture, as well as some observations that tie together the impact and calls to action that are relevant to the Latino community and many other ethnic and socioeconomic groups in the United States. (You may wish to refer to the American Cancer Society's "Cancer Facts and Figures for Hispanics/Latinos 2012-2014" which contains a wealth of information relative to cancer for this community.) More...

In An Era Of Bold New Cancer Treatments An Older Drug Shows Real Promise For Advanced Prostate Cancer

by Dr. Len June 02, 2014

The annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology here in Chicago is a place where many commercial interests jostle for attention to make their latest promising therapy the star of the show. But this weekend, a standard widely available generic drug stole the show by producing incredible results in improving survival for men with advanced prostate cancer. And that has some of us asking, "Why did it take so long to find out? More...

The Haunting Memories When Screening Doesn't Work

by Dr. Len March 27, 2014

I had the opportunity earlier this week to participate in a Twitter chat on the topic of colorectal cancer awareness. The chat was intended to bring attention to a nationwide campaign called "80 by 2018" designed to increase colorectal cancer screening rates to 80% of the population over the next 4 years. If it is successful, we should see a decline in both incidence and deaths from this disease.

But I am haunted by two of the comments I tweeted during the session chat that won't leave my conscience:

"As a doc, you don't forget the patients you couldn't help. And you celebrate those you did. #CRCawareness is key #80by2018"

"Let's remember that screening doesn't help everyone, so don't forget the need for more research in understanding #CRC #80by2018"

While we celebrate the opportunity to save more lives with screening, we cannot ignore or forget those for whom screening for colorectal cancer (or other cancers, for that matter) couldn't or didn't make a difference. More...

About Dr. Len

Dr. Len

J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, MACP - Dr. Lichtenfeld is Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the national office of the American Cancer Society.

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