Our annual UMass Cancer Walk & Run – held on Sunday, September 22 – gives us an opportunity to connect with the community and showcase our commitment to caring for cancer patients in this region. I’ve asked Jonathan Gerber, MD, who has been leading the UMass Memorial Health Care Cancer Center as Medical Director for the past year, to be our guest blogger this month and share his vision for cancer care at UMass Memorial. Before I turn the page over to Jonathan, I want to thank our caregivers who participated in the Cancer Walk for helping us to pass our goal of raising $750,000! And most importantly, thank you for taking great care of our patients being treated for cancer.
Guest Blogger: Jonathan Gerber, MD, Chief of the Hematology/Oncology Division and Medical Director of the UMass Memorial Health Care Cancer Center.
It’s been almost a year since I joined the Medical Center, and what strikes me most is the family atmosphere here. We offer top-quality care to cancer patients and their families right in their own backyards – there’s no need to go to Boston when proven care is so close to where they live and work. Our staff plays an enormous role in creating this family-like environment, where everyone feels welcomed. From food service staff to nurses, from housekeeping to our expert physicians, our caregivers get to know patients on an individual level – no one is ever “just a number.”
I came to the Medical Center with the goal of establishing the Cancer Center as one of the very best anywhere. As an academic medical center, we’re proud to deliver the highest quality of personalized care, including cutting-edge clinical trials. We’re also training the next generation of physicians and scientists with the potential to transform cancer care. After decades of limited progress in many cancers, we are now enjoying an explosion of new therapies, which are far more effective and less toxic than their predecessors. In fact, many of these new treatments can be taken orally. Armed with a better understanding of the molecular makeup of these cancers, we’re also better able to tailor treatments to an individual patient’s cancer.
Our collaboration with UMass Medical School is vital to accelerating clinical advances and delivering better therapies to patients. Our current research initiatives include developing ways to detect and target the cancer stem cells at the root of the disease, with the goal of curing more patients with less toxicity.
We’re also focusing on early-phase clinical trials, including several first-in-human clinical trials for acute leukemia and other cancers, due to open later this year – bringing the most promising new therapies to our patients with these challenging diseases. We will also soon be introducing chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy to central Massachusetts. This exciting therapy re-engineers the immune system, namely T cells, to attack specific targets on cancer cells. One of these re-engineered T cells can kill 1,000 tumor cells, producing dramatic and lasting responses in some of the most refractory leukemias and lymphomas. New CAR T cell trials seek to extend these promising results to other types of cancer. As we further decode the genetic mistakes that underpin cancer, devise ways to target cancer stem cells and better harness the immune system to fight cancer, we’re finding hope in previously hopeless situations, helping more patients live longer with a better quality of life.
We’re also a leader – not just a local leader but a world leader – in cancer care. We are celebrating the 25th anniversary of our Blood & Marrow Transplantation (BMT) Program this year, along with renewed accreditation by the Commission on Cancer, National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers, and Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy. To continually improve access, we’re recruiting new providers with subspecialty expertise. In addition, we will be opening a new, dedicated Oncology floor (8 North) in December, to complement our other state-of-the-art inpatient and outpatient cancer care facilities.
UMass Memorial Medical Center is also a proud member of the Dana-Farber Cancer Care Collaborative. Membership in this collaborative signifies our commitment to excellence in cancer care and provides unique access to the many resources of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI). Perhaps most importantly, this includes the ability to present patient cases at DFCI tumor boards – effectively obtaining second opinions without patients having to leave the comfort of their own homes. For those patients with particularly rare and/or complicated cancers, expedited referrals from our team to the experts and clinical trials at DFCI are available. Lastly, the Collaborative offers opportunities for provider education and research collaborations, including additional clinical trials.
By offering expert treatment for a wide variety of cancers right here in Worcester, we’re able to relieve some of the terrible burden cancer places on patients and their families. That peace of mind and convenience are priceless during such a stressful time and allow patients and their caregivers to focus on fighting the disease. Best of all, however, is seeing the joy when patients learn their treatments were successful and they have more time to spend with those they love than they ever thought possible. There’s still a great deal of work to be done before we can deliver good news to all of our patients, but I’m optimistic that further advances will bring that goal within reach.
To schedule a Hematology/Oncology appointment with one of our experts, please call 855-UMASS-MD (855-862-7763); or to reach one of our providers, please call the HOPE line at 866-597-HOPE (866-597-4673).