The recent announcement by a California company offering DNA blood tests (also known as “liquid biopsies”) for the early detection of cancer takes us to a place most of us expected we would get to, but much earlier than we are prepared for. Simply stated, our technology and rush to get new tests to market-even before we have a basic understanding of how to use those tests to improve the health of consumers–has outstripped our scientific understanding, and we ignore the implications at our own peril. [more]
First, some history:
The concept of having a blood test to diagnose cancer early is not new. In fact, I recall an international meeting about a decade ago where a lecturer predicted the diagnosis of cancer through a simple finger stick that would be sent to a lab for analysis.
Fast forward to June of 2009 when I was a guest on the Today Show and was asked to offer a closing thought telling viewers something they didn’t know about cancer. My comment was to the effect that one day in the not too distant future we would be able to find cancer cells circulating in the blood in people who didn’t … Continue reading →
(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 … Continue reading →
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 … Continue reading →
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 … Continue reading →
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]
I personally had some interests in immunotherapy research back in the 1970’s when I was at the National Cancer Institute. We knew that our bodies’ immune systems could recognize some cancers as “foreign”, particularly melanoma and kidney cancer. Even though we had evidence that our bodies could recognize these cancer cells weren’t normal, our natural, “built-in” defense systems sometimes didn’t attack those cancers. The goal was to figure out how to make the immune system wake up and do its job. We … Continue reading →
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 … Continue reading →
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 … Continue reading →
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]
Let’s assume that we can continue to accomplish the grand goals … Continue reading →
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]
There’s no doubt NBCAM is a big deal. In fact it’s probably the biggest cancer care effort for the entire year. It has been enormously successful in bringing attention to breast cancer and creating public focus on a very important issue for women and the men who love them, even as it does crowd out attention to other cancers that also deserve our attention, like lung, childhood cancer, ovarian cancer, and on and on.
And why shouldn’t we highlight mammography’s role? In the bad old days, as a much younger oncologist, I used to dream of a day when we could have not only better treatments for cancer, … Continue reading →
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 … Continue reading →