The medical center’s expansive cancer research program has been responsible for advancing knowledge and treatments, said Dr. Julie Vose, M.D., chief of the UNMC Division of Hematology/Oncology and the Neumann M. and Mildred E. Harris Professor. She also is a physician on staff at The Nebraska Medical Center. Researchers receive funding from a variety of sources, including the National Institutes of Health, and collaborate with some of the top cancer centers in the world such as MD Anderson Cancer Center, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Center, Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University, and several European centers.
“We learn through our encounters with patients and our clinical trials. Our experience not only helps our current patients but also will help future patients five or 10 years down the road. In oncology, everything we do is based on research,” Dr. Vose said.
Tawny Roeder is representative of thousands of patients who’ve benefited from the medical center’s work. It saved her life.
In 2008, the Storm Lake, Iowa, resident was just finishing nursing school when she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She was referred to the medical center for a transplant and moved to Omaha. She received a transplant and ultimately was able to finish nursing school. She now works as a nurse and lymphoma transplant case manager at the medical center – with the same physician who treated her.
“Having the stem cell transplant completely changed my life,” Roeder said. “I was hopeful that someday I could help and comfort others who were sick. Now, as a transplant nurse, I get to help others through the difficult process every day. Sometimes life’s toughest battle turns into an amazing journey with a fulfilling purpose.”
Dr. Vose, Roeder and others are looking forward to the construction of a comprehensive cancer center on campus, scheduled to be completed in 2016. The center will include an outpatient clinic where patients can access all their cancer needs; a 98-lab research tower; and a hospital with 108 beds dedicated to cancer patients.
“We’re excited to take the next step to advance our work for better treatments and improve the quality of life for those with cancer,” Dr. Vose said. “It’s reassuring to be able to see patients over the years and help them through their illness. There’s nothing better than seeing them return to a normal, healthy lifestyle and have time with their families.”
Some of the trends and developments from the medical center’s 30 years of bone marrow/stem cell transplant program include:
- Transplants for multiple myeloma increased. Transplants have become the standard of care for initial therapy, at relapse and as a way to control the disease as long as possible. The number of transplants for acute myelogenous leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome also have increased.
- Age is no longer a barrier to getting a transplant. In the past, transplants were limited to around age 60 for an autologous transplant and age 50 for an allogeneic transplant. Now transplants are done well into the 70s.
- Survival rates have increased due to the advance in knowledge and supportive care that help patients get through the procedure. These include better antibiotics, new medications and other supportive care procedures and better ways to prevent graft versus host disease. Because treatments have improved, fewer patients require transplantation. Only the sickest patients are undergoing transplantation.
- Reduced intensity (lower dose chemotherapy) transplants now are performed on some patients who receive allogeneic transplants, which reduces side effects in patients.
- The discovery of subtypes of lymphoma helped determine what treatment is needed.
- Large clinical trials found that transplants for breast cancer didn’t benefit most patients.
- Patients now are treated more often in the outpatient setting than the inpatient setting.
- In the past, patients would stay in the hospital for 30 to 40 days. Now it’s 15 to 20 days.