The UVM Medical Center reporter Eleanor Osborne sat down with Dr. James to discuss recent advances in oncology treatment. Below are excerpts from this interview.
Q: What are some of the most significant advances in cancer treatment over the past 10 years?
A: First, survival rates are higher, thanks to advances in systemic therapy, the discovery of new agents through clinical trials, and new combination therapy. Certain cancers, such as testicular and breast, have especially benefited from these advances.
Another important development is the use of more targeted therapies, which affect only the cancer cells, sparing the patient’s non-cancerous cells. This approach has translated into greater efficacy with fewer side effects.
We are also focusing on prevention. For certain cancers, we are now able to identify high-risk patients, and when we identify these patients we can take a much more proactive approach – screening more frequently and using preventative measures to reduce the likelihood of cancer forming.
Cancer prevention starts with our patients. The American Cancer Society recently stated that up to 50% of cancers can be avoided through lifestyle changes. Clinical studies have shown a connection between post-menopausal weight gain and breast cancer. We are working with our breast cancer survivors to maintain healthy body weights. And we encourage our patients to adopt other healthy lifestyle habits, such as regular exercise, healthy diets and not smoking.
Q: What are some of the ways in which the UVM Medical Center is leading the field in cancer treatment?
A: First, we offer a coordinated team approach to cancer treatment. As a group, all members of the care team, including the surgical oncologist, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, cancer dietitian, and the nurse navigator, meet with the patient to set goals, answer questions and develop a treatment plan.
We encourage our patients to be active participants in the development of their care plan. This team approach is not only tremendously convenient and comforting for the patient, but it ensures better outcomes.
As an academic medical center, we are involved in a number of clinical trials that are a significant source of new innovation. We make sure our patients know about these trials as well.
Our technology is a huge part of our success. We offer partial radiation – which targets the cancer but spares the healthy breast tissue. We employ state-of-the-art, minimally-invasive surgical techniques, removing the tumor with smaller incisions.
Those are just a few of the techniques that are being done here. It’s important for people to know that we offer the highest level of care – and we provide this care with great passion and support. I’ve had patients who have come here with a diagnosis of cancer, then go to Dana Farber or Sloan Kettering for a second opinion – and they come back here. They tell me, “you know what? They’re not doing anything there that you aren’t offering here in Vermont.”
Ted James, MD, is a surgical oncologist at the UVM Medical Center and a professor at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM.