Cancer treatment that gets personal
As a cancer doctor, one of the most dramatic ways in which lab services directs us is in the area of personalized medicine.
In the past, cancer treatments looked more like a shotgun approach: chemotherapy drugs that killed cancer cells, but also damaged normal cells and caused side effects. Today, molecular biology has identified hundreds of abnormalities in the proteins and genes of certain cancer cells. Drugs have been developed to target those weaknesses and kill cancer cells more effectively, while leaving more normal cells undamaged.
Biopsies are performed for virtually every patient we treat to look for these abnormalities so we can customize treatments to attack their cancer as effectively as possible. Our partners at MCW and Wisconsin Diagnostic Laboratories (WDL) help us do that all day, every day. Let’s say we’re testing a patient with gastric cancer. During a biopsy, or in the operating room during surgery, the pathologist can process and examine a tissue sample with sufficient accuracy to determine whether or not cancer cells are present. The answer can determine the surgeon’s next steps, and provides information to make treatment decisions that, ultimately, help achieve the best outcome for the patient.
Similarly, when a surgeon removes a tumor, the pathologist looks at the margins around the tumor to make sure it’s all normal tissue. Knowing at the bedside that the margins are clean allows the surgeon to know that the entire tumor was removed, that no cancer was left behind.
My specialty, hematology/oncology, is one of the most highly complex, rapidly evolving fields in healthcare. Having the combined reliability and expertise of Froedtert South, MCW, and WDL is unique, and it separates us from other institutions that don’t have a relationship with an academic medical center. Make no mistake, the places where academic medicine happens – places like Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin –are the thought leaders treating patients. Every hematologist/oncologist like me is talking to people around their region and across the country every day to get assistance in diagnosing cancers, and analyzing molecular biology and genetics. Having the professional, one-on-one relationships that we have with the experts at MCW and WDL gives us an in, a pipeline to the experts who help drive this entire field of medicine.
That makes us different, and it helps our patients.