Screening, treatment and clinical research opportunities come together in a holistic approach to patient care for people on Long Island and around the world.
It is an exciting time to be an oncologist, according to David Chu, MD, FACP, Associate Chief of the Clinical Research Department at New York Cancer & Blood Specialists, Clinical Instructor at Stony Brook University Hospital, and Chief of the Department of Hematology and Oncology at Mather and St. Charles Hospitals.
“I have different conversations with patients today than I would have had just last year,” Dr. Chu says. “With new targeted agents and immunotherapy available, the list of treatment options has expanded.”
Screening and Diagnosis
Advancements in techniques and technology have allowed oncologists at New York Cancer & Blood Specialists to diagnose and treat certain cancers early, resulting in a higher probability of successful treatments and cures.
One of these technologies helps detect early stage lung cancer for older patients with a history of heavy smoking.
“Previously, there was no lung cancer screening test for these patients,” Dr. Chu says. “However, with the new low-dose radiation CT scan, we’ve picked up dozens of lung cancers in their early stages at New York Cancer & Blood Specialists.”
Low-dose CT is now recommended for patients 55 to 80 years old with a 30-pack-year smoking history who currently smoke or have quit in the past 15 years.
Another noteworthy screening option for patients who are suspected of having cancer or have had cancer in the past is the PET scan, which can measure abnormal metabolic activity and detect the development of cancerous masses.
“I’ve found cancers I wasn’t looking for using the PET scanner,” Dr. Chu says. “In one instance I found lung cancer when I was screening for breast cancer.”
Circulating tumor cell (CTC) tests can also be used as a surveillance option for patients. These tests examine blood samples to determine if CTCs are traveling from a primary tumor to other parts of the body, allowing for quicker treatment decisions to counteract the spread of metastatic cancers.
Physicians at New York Cancer & Blood Specialists employ many treatment options that work by attacking specific cancers. These options include targeted antibodies, chemotherapies and immunotherapies that can often be used in conjunction with radiation therapy. These treatments are meant to spare healthy cells while targeting markers, mutations or growth factors unique to certain cancer cells.
“What some of these immunotherapies do is attack and remove mutations from tumor cells that block the body from recognizing the cancer,” Dr. Chu says. “After removing the camouflage that these cells have, the body can then extrude them with minimal side effects.”
A process called molecular profiling can be used to determine if cancer cells have growth factors that would respond to targeted chemotherapy. During molecular profiling, biopsied tumor specimens are tested for the presence of these growth factors. Patients then receive chemotherapy that targets these growth factors while being exposed to less toxicity than patients who undergo traditional chemotherapy.
Targeted treatment at New York Cancer & Blood Specialists isn’t limited to medical oncology — radiation oncology has also received an upgrade thanks to the CyberKnife robotic radiation delivery system.
“CyberKnife uses an intense beam of radiation that can target small tumors without the side effects of standard external beam radiation,” Dr. Chu says. “We can even use CyberKnife for some patients who cannot undergo surgery.”
Thanks to Research
Many of the targeted therapies that Dr. Chu offers would not be possible without research and clinical trials. Currently, New York Cancer & Blood Specialists is involved in more than 40 trials that examine treatments for various types of cancer.
“We treat a large number of patients in Suffolk County, which allows us to enroll a lot of patients in trials,” Dr. Chu says. “The number of research trials we have really separates us from other oncology centers in the area.”
Patients who have exhausted existing treatment options can find new avenues for therapy through these trials while contributing to the advancement of care for future patients. Those who enroll in trials are monitored by the entire research department and have easy access to specialists whenever they have questions or concerns about their treatment.
In some cases, New York Cancer & Blood Specialists physicians participate in trials that are available only in the United States. These trials attract patients from around the globe.
A Holistic Approach
While Dr. Chu and others at New York Cancer & Blood Specialists spend much of their time focusing on traditional and experimental therapies to treat cancer, they are also aware that treating patients holistically is more important than simply treating a single disease.
“We know that people do better if they’re healthier in both body and mind,” Dr. Chu says. “That’s why we use a multidisciplinary approach and refer our patients to nutritionists and physical therapists. We also have our own lymphedema clinic that’s available to patients.”
In addition to nutritionists and physical therapists, New York Cancer & Blood Specialists offers support groups and clinical psychologists to assist patients and families whose lives have been changed by a cancer diagnosis. Social workers and benefits and financial counselors are also available to help guide patients through the logistical hurdles that can come with cancer treatment.
The New York Cancer Foundation also works with New York Cancer & Blood Specialists to help provide care to patients and families who otherwise would not be able to afford it.
“We’ve received nothing but positive feedback about the range of services we provide,” Dr. Chu says. “Patients often become good friends with their nutritionists or physical therapists, and those who have received help from the foundation have come to me crying tears of joy due to the help they’ve received.”