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A Comprehensive Cancer Center Designated by the National Cancer Institute

Focus on Personalized Care

The presence of a large, world-class cancer research program elevates the quality of patient care by providing a level of expertise unavailable at most other medical centers. Patients benefit not only from state-of-the-art medical technology, but also from a team of physicians known for their innovative thinking, their in-depth knowledge of emerging research, their focus on the best options for each patient, and a team approach that brings together multiple specialties to consider each individual case.

The following are a few of our many cancer success stories:

  • When retired teacher and homemaker Sondra Hannafan was diagnosed with advanced Stage III ovarian cancer in April 2006, she turned to UChicago and S. Diane Yamada, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology. Hannafan’s treatment plan was intense—hysterectomy and debulking surgery followed by intraperitoneal chemotherapy, and a 6-month course of chemotherapy every 3 weeks. The treatment worked, and Dr. Yamada attributes the success to a combination of aggressive surgery, effective chemotherapy, and Hannafan’s tumor biology. Hannafan’s credits the customized care she received at UChicago. “You’re not just a number,” she said. “And I found that wonderful.” Now a 5-year survivor, Hannafan is enjoying life and filling her days with volunteer activities, traveling, and babysitting her grandchildren.
    Read more of Hannafan's story in the Spring 2011 issue of Pathways to Discovery.
  • Retired North Shore lawyer John Lynch was referred to UChicago after being diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma on his neck. Head and neck cancer specialists at UChicago worked together and independently to find the cancer’s primary source, and Lynch underwent surgery to remove the tumor, some of his lymph nodes, tonsils, and some of his inner cheek. Two weeks later, he began radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Throughout the process, Lynch continued to eat—milk shakes, mashed potatoes, and other soft foods. Now, more than 2 years later, he is still cancer-free. “I was never worried—not for even a single day,” said Lynch.
    Read more of Lynch's story in the Winter 2011 issue of Pathways to Discovery.
  • A persistent tickle in his throat caused a suburban Chicago plastic surgeon to visit UChicago. Physicians took X-rays and diagnosed the patient, Victor, with non-small cell lung cancer. His cancer too advanced for radiation, Victor underwent two courses of chemotherapy. Tests showed that a specific genetic mutation was the cause of his cancer. This mutation involved the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene. Part of the ALK gene was breaking off its chromosome and reattaching itself to a neighboring gene on the same chromosome. Ravi Salgia, MD, PhD, worked with a team of UChicago specialists to customize a treatment plan. “Every patient is different, and we need to individualize every patient’s therapy,” Dr. Salgia said. Victor began treatment in a Phase I trial of Crizotinib, a drug that has been developed to block signals from the fusion gene. Victor’s last CT scan showed his tumor had shrunk and was not producing any new growth spots.
    Read more of Victor’s story.
  • When Gus Snare had a mysterious sudden loss of appetite, the 90-year-old Crete, Ill., native came to UChicago, where his physicians found a mass on his pancreas that they later confirmed was bile duct cancer. The cancer was serious, and to survive, Snare would need parts of his stomach, duodenum, pancreas, bile duct, and gallbladder removed—a major surgery often called a “Whipple procedure.” The procedure typically poses high risks for elderly patients, but after Snare had no problems passing a geriatric stress test, his doctors were convinced surgery was a realistic option. “As a geriatrician, I don’t think about chronological age, but rather physiological age,” said William Dale, MD, PhD. Snare became the oldest patient ever to have the procedure at the UCMC. During the 8-and-a-half-hour surgery, the surgeon completely removed a grape-sized tumor from Snare’s pancreas. The 3-week recovery was complicated, but Snare went back to eating his favorite foods again, walking around big shopping malls, and looking forward to camping and fishing trips.
    Read more of Snare’s story.

Personalized Medicine

Personalized medicine––which uses information about a person’s genes, proteins, and environment to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease––continues to be a primary focus of the UCCCC. One day, physicians will be able to use a series of markers unique to each person to tailor individualized prevention and treatment strategies. Those markers could include genetic, social, environmental, and behavioral factors. Some personalized treatments already exist in oncology. They include genetic tests and measuring certain proteins in breast, lung, and colorectal cancer patients that help better identify the appropriate treatment strategies.

The UChicago Center for Personalized Therapeutics opened in 2010 to bring this knowledge into practice. A major initiative of the center is called the “1200 Patients Project,” a first-of-its-kind study that will incorporate broad genetic information from adult patients who are receiving ongoing care into routine clinical practice for medical treatment decisions. Such information could allow physicians to predict which patients are most likely to respond positively to a given medication, experience side effects from medications, or require alternative dosing.
Read more about the center in the Winter 2011 issue of Pathways to Discovery.