Wilmot Cancer Center Leads Cancer Survivorship Research Movement

Conference Brings National Oncology Leaders to Rochester for Summit

May 17, 2006

"Now we have a population of about 10 million survivors out there, and they have health issues and needs that should be addressed"

The James P. Wilmot Cancer Center is launching a research program to improve cancer survivorship for the nearly 10 million people who have been treated for the life-threatening disease.

This week, researchers from throughout the country will meet in Rochester to discuss ways to improve treatments, minimize long-term side effects and improve the quality of life of people who complete treatment and move on with their lives.

The Cancer Survivorship Research and Education Program will hold a two-day summit of scientists and oncologists from around the nation Thursday and Friday at the Memorial Art Gallery. They will discuss research and the future of cancer survivorship.

“We’ve reached the point with cancer treatments that more than 70 percent survive and we’re recognizing that we’ve moved from the cancer patient to cancer survivors for a large group of people. Now we have a population of about 10 million survivors out there, and they have health issues and needs that should be addressed,” said Philip Rubin, M.D., an international expert and professor emeritus of Radiation Oncology at the University of Rochester Medical Center.. This translates into 980,000 additional cancer survivors each year.

As more people than ever survive cancer and live longer, there has been significant effort to study ways to improve their quality of life and provide support for them. Approximately 1.4 million people will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in the United States this year.

The survivorship program is being created through a $1 million endowment from a planned gift in Rubin’s will. The conference is funded by gifts from Rubin’s grateful patients who are long-time survivors – Mayer Mitchell of Mobile, Ala., and Samuel Bonacci and his family and friends, Peter Sorge, Frank Posato, and Joe Ange from Rochester.

Wilmot Cancer Center Director Richard I. Fisher, M.D., praised Rubin’s vision and commitment to the Cancer Center. “His leadership in the field of radiation oncology is unparalleled and his focus on improving survivorship is key to the future of clinical care and research.”

Rubin was instrumental in establishing radiation oncology as a separate medical discipline and said the program will focus on researching ways to improve treatments and minimize the lasting effects of radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery on people with cancer.

His 50-year career focused on studying radiation, dating back to the Manhattan Project, the World War II code name for the atomic bomb. Rochester scientists collected all the biologic data on radiation effects on the body during that time. Once the scientific data was declassified, Rubin analyzed it and published extensively on radiation tolerance, establishing the University as an international leader for studying late effects.

He helped develop the field of using radiation therapeutically, having served as the first director of the Department of Radiation Oncology Services at the National Cancer Institute. He joined the Medical Center and created the Department of Radiation Oncology, serving as chief and then chair from 1961-95. Rubin also founded and served as editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics, the premier journal in the field.

The cancer survivorship program is a natural fit for the Wilmot Cancer Center.

“We’ve built a strong reputation and expertise in late-effects of radiation,” Rubin said. “I’m pleased to say we’re ahead of the curve in many ways in terms of understanding what patients go through during treatment and after treatment.”

Paul Okunieff, M.D., chair of Radiation Oncology and Philip Rubin Professor of Radiation Oncology, is continuing Rubin’s research into the effects of radiation. He recently received at $21 million federal grant to investigate the effects of radiation in bioterrorism and is studying ways to detect levels of exposure if a “dirty bomb” attack were to occur.

Louis “Sandy” Constine, M.D., professor of Radiation and Pediatric Oncology, who has studied the long-term effects of radiation and chemotherapy on both childhood and adult cancer survivors, will lay the groundwork to build the Wilmot survivorship program.

As doctors, not only do we celebrate surviving cancer, but we are passionate about trying to maximize the quality of life of the cancer survivor,” Constine said. “Before, we were satisfied to cure cancer. Now it’s incumbent upon radiation and medical oncologists to understand the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy and how we can help patients tolerate and minimize them.”

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