Wilmot Scientist to Lead Survivorship Study of Platinum-Based Chemotherapy

Oct. 30, 2012
$5.8 million NCI grant will fund multi-center study examining genetic susceptibility to side effects
Lois Travis, M.D., Sc.D.

A new, multi-center study of cancer survivors spearheaded by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center could lead to ways in which to identify patients who are more susceptible to experiencing long term and debilitating side effects from a common and effective chemotherapeutic agent. The study, led by Lois B. Travis, M.D., Sc.D., director of the Rubin Center for Cancer Survivorship, Department of Radiation Oncology at the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center, is being funded by a $5.8 million grant recently awarded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Cancer survivorship is an urgent topic that is relevant to millions of patients who are successfully treated for cancer but face uncertain health risks later due to the late effects of treatment.  The award places URMC at the forefront of an understudied side of cancer care. Gains in survivorship have steadily increased during the past 30 years, and as this population continues to grow so does the need for information about how to manage post-cancer care, determine genetic vulnerabilities to therapy, and pose alternatives to the standard treatments.   

Travis and her study collaborators at other U.S. cancer centers  (Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Mayo Clinic, MD Anderson, Memorial Sloan-Kettering, Pacific Northwest Consortium, University of Chicago, University of Indiana, University of Pennsylvania), and Princess Margaret Hospital (Toronto, Canada), will spend the next five years studying nearly 4,000 testicular cancer survivors who were treated with cisplatin-based chemotherapy. The objective of the researchers is to evaluate genetic susceptibility to long-term platinum toxicity. This study population is composed of testicular cancer survivors, most of them cured of cancer, and is considered ideal for examining the genetic underpinnings of long-term platinum toxicity given their typically young age at diagnosis, high cure rate, and possible lifelong risk of treatment side effects. 

Cisplatin was introduced in 1974 at the University of Indiana by Lawrence Einhorn, M.D., Ph.D., who serves as one of the pivotal collaborators on the study, and is a strong proponent of cancer survivorship research. The platinating agents (which include cisplatin) are effective treatment that can be used as part of the initial management for a wide range of cancers, including lung, colon, cervix, ovary, bladder, testis, stomach, head and neck, esophagus, and pancreas. It is estimated that each year almost 6 million people worldwide are diagnosed with a cancer at one of these sites. The treatment success, however, comes at a cost, as it has been estimated that a sizable proportion of patients may experience hearing loss or constant ringing in the ears, another 30-40% sensory neuropathies (or nerve damage), and still others decreased kidney function.

Despite over 30 years of clinical use, there are currently no means to identify which patients might be at risk for platinum toxicity or which might be offered alternative therapies or reduced-dose regimens. The results of this study have the potential to impact the millions of people each year diagnosed with cancers for which platinum-based chemotherapy can be used. 

Travis is known internationally for her many transdisciplinary, global research studies of cancer survivors that have provided important new information with regard to the late toxicities of cancer and its treatment. For two decades, Travis conducted survivorship research as a Principal Investigator at the NCI, National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. 

 “Our goal is to lessen the cost of the cure,” Travis stated. “This research grant is a major victory for cancer survivors everywhere.”

The research will also draw on the talent of some of the brightest minds at URMC, representing several departments including Radiation Oncology, Hematology Oncology, Pathology, Cardiology, Neurology and Biostatistics. According to Travis, the multidisciplinary strength of the Medical Center makes URMC an ideal place to lead a national research consortium to study cancer survivorship.