Glimmer of Hope: Johns Hopkins Uses Pap Smear Test Cervical Fluid to Detect Ovarian & Endometrial Cancers

Using cervical fluid obtained during routine Pap tests, scientists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center have developed a test to detect ovarian and endometrial cancers. The investigators note that larger-scale studies are needed prior to clinical use on women. 

Using cervical fluid obtained during routine Pap tests, scientists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center have developed a test to detect ovarian and endometrial cancers. Results of the experiments are published in the January 9 issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine.

In a pilot study, the “PapGene” test, which relies on genomic sequencing of cancer-specific mutations, accurately detected all 24 (100 percent) endometrial cancers and nine of 22 (41 percent) ovarian cancers. The endometrial cancers may have been easier to find because cells from those tumors do not have as far to travel as ovarian cancer cells. The Hopkins researchers will study whether inserting the Pap brush deeper, testing during different times of the menstrual cycle, or other factors might improve detection of ovarian cancer.

The investigators note that larger-scale studies are needed prior to clinical use on women, but they believe the test has the potential to pioneer genomic-based, cancer screening tests. [Emphasis added]

The Papanicolaou (Pap) test, during which cells collected from the cervix are examined for microscopic signs of cancer, is widely and successfully used to screen for cervical cancers. Today, many women’s Paps undergo an additional DNA-based test to see if they harbor the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can spur cervical cancer. However, no routine screening method is available for ovarian or endometrial cancers.

 Luis Diaz, M.D.

Luis Alberto Diaz, M.D.

Since the Pap test occasionally contains cells shed from the ovaries or endometrium, cancer cells arising from these organs could be present in the fluid as well, says Luis Diaz, M.D., associate professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins, as well as director of translational medicine at the Ludwig Center for Cancer Genetics and Therapeutics and director of the Swim Across America Laboratory, also at Johns Hopkins. The laboratory is sponsored by a volunteer organization that raises funds for cancer research through swim events. “Our genomic sequencing approach may offer the potential to detect these cancer cells in a scalable and cost-effective way,” adds Diaz.

Hear Dr. Diaz discuss the PapGene test research in this hyperlinked podcast, courtesy of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Cervical fluid of patients with gynecologic cancer carries normal cellular DNA mixed together with DNA from cancer cells, according to the investigators. The investigators’ task was to use genomic sequencing to distinguish cancerous from normal DNA.

The scientists had to determine the most common genetic changes in ovarian and endometrial cancers in order to prioritize which genomic regions to include in their test. They searched publicly available genome-wide studies of ovarian cancer, including those done by other Johns Hopkins investigators, to find mutations specific to ovarian cancer. Such genome-wide studies were not available for the most common type of endometrial cancer, so they conducted genome-wide sequencing studies on 22 of these endometrial cancers.

From the ovarian and endometrial cancer genome data, the Johns Hopkins-led team identified 12 of the most frequently mutated genes in both cancers and developed the PapGene test with this insight in mind.

The investigators then applied PapGene on Pap test samples from ovarian and endometrial cancer patients at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the University of São Paulo in Brazil and ILSbio, a tissue bank. The new test detected both early- and late-stage disease in the endometrial and ovarian cancers tested. No healthy women in the control group were misclassified as having cancer.

Animation of PapGene:

Looking ahead, the investigators’ next steps include applying PapGene on more samples and working to increase the test’s sensitivity in detecting ovarian cancer. “Performing the test at different times during the menstrual cycle, inserting the cervical brush deeper into the cervical canal, and assessing more regions of the genome may boost the sensitivity,” says Chetan Bettegowda, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins and a member of the Ludwig Center as well.

Together, ovarian and endometrial cancers are diagnosed in nearly 70,000 women in the United States each year, and about one-third of them will die from it. “Genomic-based tests could help detect ovarian and endometrial cancers early enough to cure more of them,” says graduate student Yuxuan Wang, who notes that the cost of the test could be similar to current cervical fluid HPV testing, which is less than $100.

PapGene is a high-sensitivity approach for the detection of cancer-specific DNA mutations, according to the investigators; however, false mutations can be erroneously created during the many steps — including amplification, sequencing and analysis — required to prepare the DNA collected from a Pap test specimen for sequencing. This required the investigators to build a safeguard into PapGene’s sequencing method, designed to weed out artifacts that could lead to misleading test results.

“If unaccounted for, artifacts could lead to a false positive test result and incorrectly indicate that a healthy person has cancer,” says graduate student Isaac Kinde.

Kinde added a unique genetic barcode — a random set of 14 DNA base pairs — to each DNA fragment at an initial stage of the sample preparation process. Although each DNA fragment is copied many times before eventually being sequenced, all of the newly copied DNA can be traced back to one original DNA molecule through their genetic barcodes. If the copies originating from the same DNA molecule do not all contain the same mutation, then an artifact is suspected and the mutation is disregarded. However, bonafide mutations, which exist in the sample before the initial barcoding step, will be present in all of the copies originating from the original DNA molecule.

The Johns Hopkins test results demonstrate that DNA from most endometrial and a fraction of ovarian cancers can be detected in a standard liquid-based Pap smear specimen obtained during routine pelvic examination. Although improvements need to be made before applying this test in a routine clinical manner, it represents a promising first step toward a broadly applicable screening methodology for the early detection of gynecologic malignancies.

“This is very encouraging, and it shows great potential,” said American Cancer Society genetics expert Michael Melner.

“We are a long way from being able to see any impact on our patients,” cautioned Dr. Shannon N. Westin of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Dr. Westin reviewed the research in an accompanying editorial, and said the ovarian cancer detection would need improvement if the test is to work. But Dr. Westin noted that ovarian cancer has poor survival rates because it’s rarely caught early. “If this screening test could identify ovarian cancer at an early stage, there would be a profound impact on patient outcomes and mortality,” Westin said.

More than 22,000 U.S. women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, and more than 15,000 die. Symptoms such as bloating and pelvic or abdominal pain are seldom obvious until the cancer is more advanced, and numerous attempts at screening tests have failed.

Endometrial cancer affects about 47,000 U.S. women a year, and kills about 8,000. There is no screening test for it either, but most women are diagnosed early because of postmenopausal bleeding.

___________________________

Funding for the research was provided by Swim Across America, the Commonwealth Fund, the Hilton-Ludwig Cancer Prevention Initiative, the Virginia & D.K. Ludwig Fund for Cancer Research, the Experimental Therapeutics Center of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the Chia Family Foundation, The Honorable Tina Brozman Foundation, the United Negro College Fund/Merck Graduate Science Research Dissertation Fellowship, the Burroughs Wellcome Career Award for Medical Scientists, the National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance and the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute (N01-CN-43309, CA129825, CA43460).

In addition to Kinde, Bettegowda, Wang and Diaz, investigators participating in the research include Jian Wu, Nishant Agrawal, Ie-Ming Shih, Robert Kurman, Robert Giuntoli, Richard Roden and James R. Eshleman from Johns Hopkins; Nickolas Papadopoulos, Kenneth Kinzler and Bert Vogelstein from the Ludwig Center at Johns Hopkins; Fanny Dao and Douglas A. Levine from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center; and Jesus Paula Carvalho and Suely Kazue Nagahashi Marie from the University of São Paulo.

Papadopoulos, Kinzler, Vogelstein and Diaz are co-founders of Inostics and Personal Genome Diagnostics. They own stocks in the companies and are members of their Scientific Advisory Boards. Inostics and Personal Genome Diagnostics have licensed several patent applications from Johns Hopkins. These relationships are subject to certain restrictions under The Johns Hopkins University policy, and the terms of these arrangements are managed by the university in accordance with its conflict-of-interest policies.

____________________________

Citations:

I. Kinde, C. Bettegowda, Y. Wang, J. et. al. Evaluation of DNA from the Papanicolaou Test to Detect Ovarian and Endometrial Cancers. Sci. Transl. Med. 5, 167ra4 (2013).

S. N. Westin, G. B. Mills, A. P. Myers, Repurposing the Pap Smear: One Step Closer to Gynecologic Cancer Screening. Sci. Transl. Med. 5, 167ps1 (2013).

Additional Sources:

Johns Hopkins Scients Use Pap Test Fluid to Detect Ovarian, Endometrial Cancers, John Hopkins Medicine, Press Release, January 9, 2013.

Retooling Pap Test To Spot More Kinds Of Cancer, The Associated Press via National Public Radio, January 9, 2013.

Libby’s H*O*P*E* & Women’s Oncology Research & Dialogue Launch New “WORD of HOPE™” Ovarian Cancer Educational Podcast Series

WORD OF HOPE™ Ovarian Cancer Podcast Now Available Through New Website, iTunes, YouTube, and Other Online Sources.

A new ovarian cancer educational podcast series, entitled “WORD of HOPE™,” was launched during Women’s Health Awareness Week through a collaborative initiative of Libby’s H*O*P*E*™ (LH) and Women’s Oncology Research & Dialogue (WORD).

The WORD of HOPE™ Ovarian Cancer podcast series will address important topics related to ovarian cancer, including prevention, early detection, diagnosis, groundbreaking treatments, scientific and clinical research information, and related women’s health information for ovarian cancer patients, caregivers and advocates. The WORD of HOPE™ podcast series can be found online at http://www.wordofhopepodcast.com, and is available to viewers and listeners for subscription at the WORD Of HOPE™ podcast website, iTunes, and YouTube.

“From the beginning, WORD has been committed to taking the most important scientific information and providing patients, caregivers and advocates the easily accessible resources to educate and inspire during their journey of care. As a physician, nearly every day we are looking for resources to give newly diagnosed patients and their supporters to help them better understand their diagnosis and treatment options. We are proud to partner with Libby’s H*O*P*E*™ and its founder Paul Cacciatore in the production of these new podcasts,” said Dr. John Geisler, WORD co-founder and Director of Gynecologic Oncology at University of Toledo.

Paul Cacciatore, Libby’s H*O*P*E* founder and podcast co-host said: “The WORD of HOPE™ ovarian cancer podcast series embodies the age old adage that ‘information is power’ — a potentially life-saving concept in the fight against the most lethal gynecologic cancer.” Mr. Cacciatore emphasized that the information featured in the podcast series is easy to understand and accessible from anywhere, including at home, on the job, or on the go through a smartphone or iPad. “WORD of HOPE™ not only raises much-needed ovarian cancer awareness in the minds of the general public, it educates survivors to proactively participate in their treatment through more meaningful dialogue with their doctors. Libby’s H*O*P*E* is proud to partner with WORD through this global form of social media.”

The first podcast installment will feature the following seven episodes (three already posted; four pending) which address ten significant 2010 scientific research and clinical treatment topics within the field of ovarian cancer:

Viewers or listeners of WORD of HOPE™ Ovarian Cancer Podcast can contact Nathan Manahan, WORD Executive Director, via email to provide feedback and ideas for the podcast. To listen, watch or subscribe to the podcast series, visit http://www.wordofhopepodcast.com.

About the WORD of HOPE™ Podcast

Based in Indianapolis, Indiana (WORD) and Los Angeles, California (LH), WORD of HOPE™ serves viewers and listeners interested in up-to-date ovarian cancer information. Hosted by Nathan Manahan and Paul Cacciatore, WORD of HOPE™ ovarian cancer podcasts will be released several times a month and available for subscription through iTunes, RSS and YouTube.

About Women’s Oncology Research & Dialogue

Co-founded by gynecologic oncologists Drs. Kelly Manahan and John Geisler, WORD is an Indianapolis-based nonprofit organization dedicated to helping women conquer gynecologic cancers through catalyzing innovative scientific and clinical research, which results in empowering educational resources for women’s organizations and medical personnel regarding proper prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

About Libby’s H*O*P*E*™

Paul Cacciatore established Libby’s H*O*P*E*(*Helping *Ovarian Cancer Survivors *Persevere Through *Education)™ in March 2008 as an online resource to assist his 26-year-old cousin, Elizabeth “Libby” Remick, who was battling advanced-stage ovarian cancer. Although Libby ultimately lost her battle to the disease, Paul continues to assist ovarian cancer survivors worldwide, and their families and friends, through the website under the principle that “information is power” in the fight against ovarian cancer. Through Libby’s H*O*P*E*™, Paul has published approximately 250 weblog articles relating to ovarian cancer and cancer-related topics. Libby’s H*O*P*E*™ utilizes a variety of online media resources and social networks to disseminate critical information relating to ovarian cancer awareness, including the early warning signs and symptoms of the disease, important medical discoveries, relevant current clinical trials, and most importantly, stories of hope involving ovarian cancer survivors and their families. To learn more, visit https://healthinfoispower.wordpress.com

For more information, contact Executive Producer, Chad Braham at 317-855-8144 or visit the official website: http://www.wordofhopepodcast.com.

Tumor-Promoting Protein COX-2 Is The Target Of First Joint Symposium Between AACR & ASCO

An inflammatory protein implicated in a variety of cancers is the target of the first joint symposium between the nation’s two premier cancer research organizations.  The presidents of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) organized the session focused on the COX-2 enzyme and cancer treatment Monday afternoon — April 20, 2:30-4:30 p.m., in rooms 205-207 of the Colorado Convention Center — at the AACR’s 100th Annual Meeting 2009 in Denver.  A similar symposium on new molecular targets will be conducted at ASCO’s annual meeting in May 29- June 2 in Orlando.  COX-2 is best known as a target for preventing dangerous polyps that lead to colorectal cancer, but it is also advancing as a target for treatment of many solid tumors. …

“Leading cancer organizations team up on tumor-promoting protein – AACR and ASCO begin joint symposia at annual meetings with focus on COX-2

An inflammatory protein implicated in a variety of cancers is the target of the first joint symposium between the nation’s two premier cancer research organizations.

duboismdander

Raymond DuBois, M.D., Ph.D., President, AACR; Provost and Executive Vice President, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center

The presidents of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) organized the session focused on the COX-2 enzyme and cancer treatment Monday afternoon — April 20, 2:30-4:30 p.m., in rooms 205-207 of the Colorado Convention Center — at the AACR’s 100th Annual Meeting 2009 in Denver. A similar symposium on new molecular targets will be conducted at ASCO’s annual meeting in May 29- June 2 in Orlando.

COX-2 is best known as a target for preventing dangerous polyps that lead to colorectal cancer, but it is also advancing as a target for treatment of many solid tumors.

‘Our symposium is timely because we are starting to see data from Phase II and Phase III clinical trials about COX-2 inhibition following post-surgical chemotherapy in colon cancer patients,’ said Raymond DuBois, M.D., Ph.D., president of AACR and provost and executive vice president at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

‘There’s been a great deal of preclinical and translational research addressing COX-2 overexpression in tumors and its role in cancer growth and survival. In prevention, inhibiting this enzyme reduces the number of high-risk precancerous polyps by 66 percent,’ DuBois said. ‘The time is ripe to combine basic science and clinical expertise to advance the therapeutic potential of this approach.’

Joint efforts are critical to the development of new approaches against cancer, said ASCO President Richard L. Schilsky, M.D., professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

‘The development of targeted therapies for cancer prevention and treatment requires the close collaboration and combined resources of basic scientists and clinical investigators,’ Schilsky said. ‘The success of targeted therapy for cancer depends first and foremost on a comprehensive understanding of the biology of the drug target coupled with a robust assay to assess target inhibition and a drug that hits the target. With these ingredients in place, clinical trials can be designed to assess the impact of treatment in the population most likely to benefit.’

schilsky

Richard L. Schilsky, M.D., President, ASCO; Associate Dean for Clinical Research, Professor of Medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

‘The AACR/ASCO Symposium illustrates these core principles and demonstrates that continued progress against cancer requires the partnership of all investigators and practitioners represented by these two great organizations,’ Schilsky said.

The idea for joint symposia at each organization’s annual meeting has been discussed for years and was advanced by immediate past presidents William Hait, M.D., Ph.D., of AACR and Nancy Davidson, M.D., of ASCO.

DuBois and Schilsky co-chair the symposium. Scheduled presentations are:

  • COX-2 and Cancer Biology by DuBois, who discovered the enzyme’s overexpression in tumors.
  • Overview of COX-2 as a Target for Cancer Treatment, by Schilsky.

*          *          *

AACR is the world’s oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research. ASCO is the world’s leading professional organization representing physicians who care for people with cancer. Many scientists and physicians are members of both organizations.”

Source: Leading Cancer Organizations Team Up on Tumor-Promoting Protein – AACR and ASCO begin joint symposia at annual meetings with focus on COX-2, M.D. Anderson News Release, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, April 17, 2009.

Comment:  The relationship between ovarian cancer and COX-2 remains unclear.  Some in vitro and in vivo studies make a connection between ovarian cancer and COX-2, while others suggest that COX-1 is more relevant to current ovarian cancer research.  It is an area that warrants further investigation.

Recent Studies Re Ovarian Cancer and COX-2:

President of M.D. Anderson Outlines 10 Steps To Achieve Progress Against Cancer.

“The Houston Chronicle recently published a commentary by John Mendelsohn, M.D., president of M. D. Anderson, outlining actions the nation should take to achieve great progress against cancer. … Here are 10 steps we can take to ensure that deaths decrease more rapidly, the ranks of survivors swell, and an even greater number of cancers are prevented in the first place. …”

“Ten Pieces Help Solve Cancer Puzzle

John Mendelsohn, M.D., President, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

John Mendelsohn, M.D., President, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

The Houston Chronicle recently published a commentary by John Mendelsohn, M.D., president of M. D. Anderson, outlining actions the nation should take to achieve great progress against cancer.

An American diagnosed with cancer today is very likely to join the growing ranks of survivors, who are estimated to total 12 million and will reach 18 million by 2020. The five-year survival rate for all forms of cancer combined has risen to 66%, more than double what it was 50 years ago.

Along with the improving five-year survival rates, the cancer death rate has been falling by 1% to 2% annually since 1990.

According to the World Health Organization, cancer will be the leading worldwide cause of death in 2010. Over 40% of Americans will develop cancer during their lifetime.

While survival rates improve and death rates fall, cancer still accounts for one in every five deaths in the U.S., and cost this nation $89.0 billion in direct medical costs and another $18.2 billion in lost productivity during the illness in 2007, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Here are 10 steps we can take to ensure that deaths decrease more rapidly, the ranks of survivors swell, and an even greater number of cancers are prevented in the first place.

#1.  Therapeutic cancer research should focus on human genetics and the regulation of gene expression.

Cancer is a disease of cells that have either inherited or acquired abnormalities in the activities of critical genes and the proteins for which they code. Most cancers involve several abnormally functioning genes – not just one – which makes understanding and treating cancer terribly complex. The good news is that screening for genes and their products can be done with new techniques that accomplish in days what once took years.

Knowledge of the human genome and mechanisms regulating gene expression, advances in technology, experience from clinical trials, and a greater understanding of the impact of environmental factors have led to exciting new research approaches to cancer treatment, all of which are being pursued at M. D. Anderson:

  • Targeted therapies.  These therapies are designed to counteract the growth and survival of cancer cells by modifying, replacing or correcting abnormally functioning genes or their RNA and protein products, and by attacking abnormal biochemical pathways within these cells.
  • Molecular markers.  Identifying the presence of particular abnormal genes and proteins in a patient’s cancer cells, or in the blood, will enable physicians to select the treatments most likely to be effective for that individual patient.
  • Molecular imaging.  New diagnostic imaging technologies that detect genetic and molecular abnormalities in cancers in individual patients can help select optimal therapy and determine the effectiveness of treatment within hours.
  • Angiogenesis.  Anti-angiogenesis agents and inhibitors of other normal tissues that surround cancers can starve the cancer cells of their blood supply and deprive them of essential growth-promoting factors which must come from the tumor’s environment.
  • Immunotherapy. Discovering ways to elicit or boost immune responses in cancer patients may target destruction of cancer cells and lead to the development of cancer vaccines.

#2.  Better tests to predict cancer risk and enable earlier detection must be developed.

New predictive tests, based on abnormalities in blood, other body fluids or tissue samples, will be able to detect abnormalities in the structure or expression of cancer-related genes and proteins. Such tests may predict the risk of cancer in individuals and could detect early cancer years before any symptoms are present.

The prostate-specific antigen test for prostate cancer currently is the best known marker test to detect the possible presence of early cancer before it has spread. Abnormalities in the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes predict a high risk for breast cancer, which can guide the decisions of physicians and patients on preventive measures. Many more gene-based predictors are needed to further our progress in risk assessment and early detection.

#3.  More cancers can and must be prevented.

In an ideal world, cancer “care” would begin with risk assessment and counseling of a person when no malignant disease is present. Risk factors include both inherited or acquired genetic abnormalities and those related to lifestyle and the environment.

The largest risk factor for cancer is tobacco smoking, which accounts for nearly one-third of all cancer deaths. Tobacco use should be discouraged with cost disincentives, and medical management of discontinuing tobacco use must be reimbursed by government and private sector payors.

Cancer risk assessment should be followed by appropriate interventions (either behavioral or medical) at a pre-malignant stage, before a cancer develops. Diagnosis and treatment of a confirmed cancer would occur only when these preventive measures fail.

A full understanding of cancer requires research to identify more completely the genetic, environmental, lifestyle and social factors that contribute to the varying types and rates of cancer in different groups in this country and around the world. A common cancer in Japan or India, for example, often is not a common cancer in the U.S. When prostate cancer occurs in African-Americans it is more severe than in Caucasians. A better understanding of the factors that influence differences in cancer incidence and deaths will provide important clues to preventing cancer in diverse populations worldwide.

#4.  The needs of cancer survivors must become a priority.

Surviving cancer means many things: reducing pain, disability and stress related to the cancer or the side effects of therapy; helping patients and their loved ones lead a full life from diagnosis forward; preventing a second primary cancer or recurrence of the original cancer; treating a difficult cancer optimally to ensure achieving the most healthy years possible, and more.  Since many more patients are surviving their cancers – or living much longer with cancer – helping them manage all the consequences of their disease and its treatment is critically important.  It is an area ripe for innovative research and for improvement in delivery of care.

#5.  We must train future researchers and providers of cancer care.

Shortages are predicted in the supply of physicians, nurses and technically trained support staff needed to provide expert care for patients with cancer.  On top of this, patient numbers are projected to increase.  We are heading toward a “perfect storm” unless we ramp up our training programs for cancer professionals at all levels.   The pipeline for academic researchers in cancer also is threatened due to the increasing difficulty in obtaining peer-reviewed research funding. We must designate more funding from the NIH and other sources specifically for promising young investigators, to enable them to initiate their careers.

#6.  Federal funding for research should be increased.

After growing by nearly 100% from 1998-2002, the National Cancer Institute budget has been in decline for the past four years. Through budget cuts and the effects of inflation, the NCI budget has lost approximately 12% of its purchasing power.  Important programs in tobacco control, cancer survivorship and support for interdisciplinary research have had significant cuts.  The average age at which a biomedical researcher receives his or her first R01 grant (the gold standard) now stands at 42, hardly an inducement to pursue this field. This shrinks the pipeline of talented young Americans who are interested in careers in science, but can find easier paths to more promising careers elsewhere.  Lack of adequate funding also discourages seasoned scientists with outstanding track records of contributions from undertaking innovative, but risky research projects.  The U.S. leadership in biomedical research could be lost.

Biomedical research in academic institutions needs steady funding that at least keeps up with inflation and enables continued growth.

#7.  The pace of clinical research must accelerate.

As research ideas move from the laboratory to patients, they must be assessed in clinical trials to test their safety and efficacy. Clinical trials are complicated, lengthy and expensive, and they often require large numbers of patients.  Further steps must be taken to ensure that efficient and cost-effective clinical trials are designed to measure, in addition to outcomes, the effects of new agents on the intended molecular targets. Innovative therapies should move forward more rapidly from the laboratory into clinical trials.

The public needs to be better educated about clinical trials, which in many cases may provide them with access to the best care available.  Greater participation in trials will speed up drug development, in addition to providing patients with the best options if standard treatments fail.  The potential risks and benefits of clinical trials must continue to be fully disclosed to the patients involved, and the trials must continue to be carefully monitored.

The issue of how to pay for clinical trials must be addressed. The non-experimental portion of the costs of care in clinical trials currently are borne in part by Medicare, and should be covered fully by all payors. The experimental portion of costs of care should be covered by the owner of the new drug, who stands to benefit from a new indication for therapeutic use.

#8.  New partnerships will encourage drug and device development.

One way to shorten the time for drug and device development is to encourage and reward collaboration among research institutions, and collaboration between academia and industry.  Increasingly, partnerships are required to bring together sufficient expertise and resources needed to confront the complex challenges of treating cancer. There is enormous opportunity here, but many challenges, as well.

Academic institutions already do collaborate, but we need new ways to stimulate increased participation in cooperative enterprises.

Traditionally, academic institutions have worked with biotech and pharmaceutical companies by conducting sponsored research and participating in clinical trials.  By forming more collaborative alliances during the preclinical and translational phases prior to entering the clinic, industry and academia can build on each other’s strengths to safely speed drug development to the bedside. The challenge is that this must be done with agreements that involve sharing, but also protect the property rights and independence of both parties.

The results of all clinical trials must be reported completely and accurately, without any influence from conflicts of interest and with full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest.

#9. We must provide access to cancer care for everyone who lives in the U.S.

More than 47 million Americans are uninsured, and many others are underinsured for major illnesses like cancer. Others are uninsurable because of a prior illness such as cancer.  And many are indigent, so that payment for care is totally impossible.

Depending on where they live and what they can afford, Americans have unequal access to quality cancer care. Treatment options vary significantly nationwide. We must find better ways to disseminate the best standards of high-quality care from leading medical centers to widespread community practice throughout the country.

Cancer incidence and deaths vary tremendously among ethnic and economic groups in this country. We need to address the causes of disparities in health outcomes and move to eliminate them.

We are unique among Western countries in not providing direct access to medical care for all who live here. There is consensus today among most Americans and both political parties that this is unacceptable.  Especially for catastrophic illnesses like cancer, we must create an insurance system that guarantees access to care.

A number of proposals involving income tax rebates, vouchers, insurance mandates and expanded government insurance programs address this issue. Whatever system is selected should ensure access and include mechanisms for caring for underserved Americans.  The solution will require give-and-take among major stakeholders, many of which benefit from the status quo.  However, the social and economic costs have risen to the point that we have no choice.

#10.  Greater attention must be paid to enhancing the quality of cancer care and reducing costs.

New therapies and medical instruments are expensive to develop and are a major contributor to the rising cost of medical care in the U.S.  The current payment system rewards procedures, tests and treatments rather than outcomes.  At the same time, cancer prevention measures and services are not widely covered.  A new system of payment must be designed to reward outcomes, as well as the use of prevention services.

Quality of care can be improved and costs can be reduced by increasing our efforts to reduce medical errors and to prescribe diagnostic tests and treatments only on the basis of objective evidence of efficacy.

A standardized electronic medical record, accessible nationwide, is essential to ensuring quality care for patients who see multiple providers at multiple sites, and we are far behind many other nations.  Beyond that, a national electronic medical record could provide enormous opportunities for reducing overhead costs, identifying factors contributing to many illnesses (including cancer), determining optimal treatment and detecting uncommon side effects of treatment.

What the future holds in store.

I am optimistic. I see a future in which more cancers are prevented, more are cured and, when not curable, more are managed as effectively as other chronic, life-long diseases. I see a future in which deaths due to cancer continue to decrease.

Achieving that vision will require greater collaboration among academic institutions, government, industry and the public.  Barriers to quality care must be removed.  Tobacco use must be eradicated.  Research must have increased funding.  Mindful that our priority focus is on the patient, we must continue to speed the pace of bringing scientific breakthroughs from the laboratory to the bedside.

M. D. Anderson resources:

John Mendelsohn, M.D.”

Primary SourceTen Pieces Help Solve Cancer Puzzle, by John Mendelsohn, M.D., Feature Article, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center Cancer News, Mar. 2009.