NEW ALBANY, IND “Individual results may vary.” We hear it so often as a disclaimer at the end of weight loss and supplement ads that the words have become white noise. But in the world of cancer treatment, a similar but significantly different phrase may soon be the norm: “Individual treatments may vary.”
That’s right, the disease that used to be synonymous with “chemotherapy” is on the verge of finding a new foe: individualized oncology. Based on the genetics of the individual and the molecular makeup of the particular cancer they are battling, individualized oncology could become the approach that leads to more consistent results, even if the course of treatment varies from patient to patient.
Naveed Chowhan, MD, FACP, who practices at Baptist Health Floyd in New Albany, Ind., and is the director of Medical Oncology Services, is a believer in the benefits of these new procedures.
“It’s pretty exciting to use the molecular makeup of the cancer to come up with specific treatments that are more targeted therapies,” says Chowhan, who is board certified in oncology, hematology, and internal medicine. “Chemotherapy is limited in what it can do, so these targeted treatments are the future. They can target the cancer cells without impacting the normal cells, so they decrease the side effects. This is the future of cancer treatment.”
Immunotherapies started out as treatments for bladder cancer and melanoma. Successes there have led to expansion into other types of cancers. While many of the drugs are still in clinical trials, early studies have shown promise in helping identify treatments specific to patients based on the genetic makeup of their cancers.
“Now we know that not all lung cancers are the same,” Chowhan says. “Molecularly, they are so diverse if you look at them under the microscope, so there can be different treatments for different lung cancers. It’s becoming more and more routine to perform genetic tests on most cancers to determine if there’s a targeted therapy available.”
For Chowhan, who has been practicing in New Albany since 1994, targeted cancer treatments aren’t the only significant improvement in his daily work. On October 1, 2016, Floyd Memorial Hospital and Health Services officially became part of Baptist Health. The new name – “Baptist Health Floyd” – is one part, but the more significant change, according to Chowhan, is the impact on patient care and convenience.
The additional services that are now accessible to Baptist Health Floyd patients mean less travel, less hassle, and less confusion for patients who already have plenty to deal with.
“We’ve tried to put everything all in one place,” Chowhan says, noting that the cancers he treats most frequently are lung, breast, and colon. “Cancer patients, for example, are distraught and don’t need to be running from place to place. We try to make it as easy as possible for patients going through treatments.”
That level of patient care is important to Chowhan, who has always looked at big-picture ways to improve the patient experience during stressful and painful treatments. For instance, he saw the negative impact that high-level pain killers could have and decided to offer an alternative. “There are so many side effects from narcotic pain killers,” Chowhan says. “I wanted to offer a complementary form of pain relief.”
And that he does. Certified in acupuncture, Chowhan gives patients a choice, offering a viable, centuries-old alternative to narcotic pain killers. While pain killers might work just fine for some, others may have adverse side effects or be susceptible to addiction. The treatment is the same; the results vary. So, much like immunotherapy in cancer treatment, individualized pain treatment takes different paths toward the same destination. It’s all part of treating not only the disease, but the patient as well.
“It is very exciting to be offering so many more choices to patients now than ever before,” Chowhan says. “This is the future of medical treatment and patient care.”
It’s becoming more and more routine to perform genetic tests on most cancers to determine if there’s a targeted therapy available.— Dr. Naveed Chowhan