The Fight Continues
May 1, 2018
When 72-year-old Larry Carlson was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer, he simply didn’t believe the news. Initially, Mr. Carlson was in denial about his cancer, but once he accepted the diagnosis, he decided that giving up wasn’t going to be a part of his plan. He was determined to fight cancer with everything he had, so he contacted a patient coordinator at Simmons Cancer Center. He was drawn to the program at UT Southwestern based on its survival rates, which are more than double the national benchmarks, along with its world-class team of clinicians and researchers. More than three years later, Mr. Carlson isn’t just surviving — he’s thriving. “UT Southwestern is a teaching hospital, so everything is on the cutting edge. There’s always a team of people there to cheer you on, to provide you with the latest and most experimental treatments,” he says, praising his treatment team for his incredible results. Mr. Carlson enrolled in a clinical trial designed for kidney cancer patients with clear cell renal cell carcinoma that metastasized to other sites, a disease stage that was once thought to be largely incurable. He underwent major surgery that involved resection of the kidney tumor along with part of the liver that was affected by the cancer. After conventional treatment, he enrolled in a clinical trial that is available only at UT Southwestern and Johns Hopkins University. “This was a good option for Larry,” says James Brugarolas, M.D., Ph.D., Mr. Carlson’s doctor and leader of the Kidney Cancer Program. The clinical trial, which is directed by Hans Hammers, M.D., Ph.D., co-leader of the Kidney Cancer Program, involves a combination of the most active immunotherapy for kidney cancer, along with radiation. The treatment led to a profound reduction in Mr. Carlson’s tumor burden. As a trial participant, he receives follow-up from a multidisciplinary team of specialists he calls “a sensational team.” He now considers himself part of the UT Southwestern family and provides guidance to others who are just beginning their journey.
Making Strides in the Fight Against Kidney Cancer
Mr. Carlson isn’t alone in his fight – kidney cancer is the
sixth most common type of cancer in men and the 10th most common in women. Unfortunately, the incidence
of kidney cancer is reportedly increasing in both men
and women and is particularly prevalent in Texas. Luckily
for patients in the North Texas region, UT Southwestern
offers one of the largest kidney cancer programs in the
country, with over 20 internationally recognized physicians
and 60 research labs working to improve outcomes
for patients diagnosed with the disease. Research at the
Kidney Cancer Program of UT Southwestern has led to
discoveries that have shaped the medical community’s
understanding of how kidney cancer develops and how
it can best be eradicated.
The Kidney Cancer Program was one of the first in
the United States to offer a noninvasive surgical treatment
of kidney tumors utilizing ablation and is considered
one of the top 10 robotic kidney surgery programs
in the nation. Advancing the treatment of kidney cancer,
the program offers the most innovative and broadest
radiation solutions in the country.
The program reports five-year overall survival rates of 25 percent for stage 4 kidney cancer patients, a rate that is more than double the national benchmark of 11 percent. UT Southwestern attracts some of the most complex and advanced cases of kidney cancer, making these results even more impressive.
Distinction as Part of the Cure
Patients and professionals alike recognize the groundbreaking nature of the research happening at UT Southwestern. The Kidney Cancer Program is one of only two programs in the country to receive a Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) Award by the National Cancer Institute. This program is designed to support research that will deliver cutting-edge treatments for kidney cancer. The Kidney Cancer Program was selected because of its history of discovery and innovation, which is changing the way kidney cancer patients are treated. “The SPORE program is tackling fundamental questions in kidney cancer,” says Dr. Brugarolas, who is the principal investigator leading SPORE. For example, a multidisciplinary team involving urological surgeons, a medical oncologist, a radiologist, and a biologist are studying how small tumors consume nutrients to distinguish tumors that may enlarge and become life-threatening from those that are harmless. This project could mean personalized treatments for kidney cancer patients that lead to better outcomes and quality of life.
Whole Patient Care
Beyond clinical trials and experimental, cutting-edge treatments, patients receiving care in the Kidney Cancer Program have access to multidisciplinary expertise from urologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, interventional radiologists, and neurosurgeons. The physician team works together to meet all the patient’s needs with the most innovative, compassionate care. Broader support systems include specialists in cancer psychology, oncology nutrition, social work, transitional care coordination, spiritual support, and integrative therapy. Patients are exceedingly satisfied with the Kidney Cancer Program, which they ranked at 4.9 out of 5 in a recent patient satisfaction survey involving 250 responses. In addition to the world-class physicians and innovative research, another key element of the Kidney Cancer Program’s success is its committed patient advocates, who provide a first line of support for patients, walking them through this confusing time from their very first phone call to doctor’s visits to treatment team meetings and more. The Kidney Cancer Program staff also works closely with the families of those in treatment and recently launched a private Facebook community where kidney cancer patients and their families can get information and support one another on their journeys.