‘A very exciting time’
A panel of cancer specialists from St. Luke’s University Health Network discussed the latest research findings and cancer treatment breakthroughs during the taping of a pilot for what is hoped will be a new St. Luke’s health series to run on PBS WLVT-39 called “Health Now.” The pre-taping was done in two half-hour segments before a live studio audience that included cancer survivors.
In the first half hour, host and producer Ashley Russo introduced each of five panelists and questioned them about their particular specialties. During the second half, Russo opened up the discussion to all the panelists, and asked questions submitted by the audience.
Panel members included Dr. Lee Riley, chair of Oncology Services; Dr. Trisha Kelly, a surgeon and breast cancer specialist; Dr. Sanjiv Agarwala, chief of medical oncology and hematology; Tracy Butryn, director of clinical trials and research; and Dr. David Anderson, chief of pathology and chair of the pathology department. Among the topics discussed were targeted therapies, immunotherapy, genomic analysis and the newest clinical trials being used to fight cancer.
Riley, who describes himself as an advocate for clinical trials for breast cancer, told the host genetic testing is being used to find a toxin against cancer and determine what is causing a specific cancer so it becomes possible to target that cancer with far fewer side effects.
“Clinical trials are now testing these drugs. It’s a very exciting time,” he said.
All the panelists agreed collaboration among various medical and research disciplines is very important in treating cancer patients. This collaboration is not only nationwide, but worldwide, as well.
“It is no longer one-size-fits-all,” Kelly remarked. “We are looking at multiple issues so we are working with a multidisciplinary team to target you and your specific cancer.”
Genetic testing, she added, “allows us to work out if you would benefit from chemotherapy or something else.”
In talking about breast cancer in particular, Kelly said she even wants to figure out “what screening works for what women.”
Using machines and automobiles as examples of what he called the “new concept” of targeted therapy, Agarwala explained, “Mutation [of cells] is the driver of the machine [cancer]. If you can find the gene that makes the drug go to find the driver, that will stop the machine.” Immunotherapy, he continued, is a way to give patients the tools to use to fight the cancer themselves through their own immune system.
Anderson said when cells don’t grow the way they should, proteins in our body kick in to “fix it.”
“If the cell has grown too fast or fixit hasn’t done its job, the cell undergoes uncontrolled growth. Over the years, it has become evident that the body and cancer are so complex that it takes a team to characterize what is wrong.
“The most advancement,” he said later in the program, “has come by keeping track of very small cells.” He credited technological advancements, such as the increased speed of computers and the development of chips like the ones in smart phones, for making that possible.
When Russo asked the panelists at the end of the second program what they were most passionate about, Riley stressed that with all the new technology, he didn’t want to forget about the patient.
Agarwala said he wanted to find a way to cure cancer completely.
Referring to his fellow panelists, Anderson answered, “I’m passionate about keeping their passions high.”
The programs will be in post-production for about a month and an air date will be announced later after focus group testing. Kenneth Szydlow, St. Luke’s vice president of marketing and public relations, said this proposed new series is an expanded format following on the earlier show, “Talk With Your Doctor.” This new format, he said, will make it possible to go into health topics in more depth.