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Transforming Cancer Care in Our Region

Drue Jennings, Bill Hall and Charlie Sunderland.

Years ago, when Drue Jennings’ first wife was diagnosed with cancer, they had no choice but to leave Kansas City for her cancer treatment.

“At the time, there were no area oncologists who could treat her advanced cancer. For years, we commuted to Texas for treatment,” Jennings, former chairman and CEO of Kansas City Power & Light, said. “While in Texas, I was so impressed that there was a public hospital, accessible to anyone nearby. Anyone could walk in and receive world-class treatment. I thought to myself, Kansas City should be able to do this.”

It was his experience and others that helped catalyze the call for a robust cancer center in Kansas City. Jennings, along with local philanthropists Bill Hall, of the Hall Family Foundation, and Charlie Sunderland, of the Sunderland Family Fund, were early champions of The University of Kansas Cancer Center.

Interestingly, both Hall and Sunderland have also been personally affected by this terrible disease. Like Jennings, Hall had to go outside of Kansas City for his bone marrow transplant.

“Kansas City just didn’t have the services at the time,” Hall said. “Of course, now, we have one of the largest bone marrow transplant centers in the world,” he added.

Sunderland, too, required a stem cell transplant.

“I could’ve gone anywhere, but I was confident in the program and chose to be treated at KU,” he said.

There’s no reason for any cancer patient to leave Kansas City. The level of care, combined with cutting-edge research, has been transformational to this community. –Drue Jennings

The Hall Family Foundation and Sunderland Family Fund’s latest contribution is the newly established medical oncology professorship at The University of Kansas Cancer Center. The professorship was created through a $1.3 million challenge grant from the Hall Family Foundation and met by a $650,000 donation from the Sunderland Family Fund.

They chose to name the professorship the A. Drue Jennings Professorship in Medical Oncology to honor their longtime friend. The gift will support the salary, travel and associated costs for the professorship, which will be at The University of Kansas Cancer Center and in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

“You invest in people. And Dr. Jensen, the center’s director, was one of the best investments we have ever made. But we can’t stop there. We need to continue hiring the best talent,” Hall said.

Sunderland and Jennings, with significant support from the Hall Family Foundation, helped the cancer center obtain prestigious National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation in 2012. The professorship is another step forward in the cancer center's pursuit of NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center designation.

“Moving toward Comprehensive designation is challenging, and Dr. Jensen needs the right resources to hire the right people. This opportunity helps him and the cancer center,” Sunderland said.

Sunderland, who was approached by Jennings to discuss the challenge grant, said it was an easy decision to answer the Hall Family Foundation’s challenge.

“We sat down to lunch and Drue explained to me how vital this professorship was to the KU Cancer team. My decision was made by the end of the meal,” he said.

Hall, Jennings and Sunderland agree that the cancer center's impact – to patients, families, the scientific community and the economy – has been far-reaching.

“Due to the incredible leadership of Dr. Jensen and the national recognition that comes from being an NCI-designated center, every aspect of the center – including The University of Kansas Hospital and KU Medical Center – has been elevated over the last several years,” Jennings said.

Jennings noted that NCI designation has created a ripple effect for the greater Kansas City area’s economy. The cancer center alone accounts for nearly $3.5 billion in economic impact, including more than 3,300 jobs created since 2007.

Still, access to high-quality cancer care, including preventive medicine, rural outreach and early detection, Hall said, is the greatest contribution the center has made to the community.

“At the end of the day, providing world-class care in Kansas City is the single most important issue,” Hall said. “There’s somebody out there who is going to be saved because of this institution.”

Jennings notes that the cancer care available to Kansas Citians today has significantly improved. Now, Kansas and Missouri families affected by cancer don’t have to add to the stress of treatment by having to travel a great distance.

“There’s no reason for any cancer patient to leave Kansas City. The level of care, combined with cutting-edge research, has been transformational to this community,” Jennings said.

Where you get your cancer care matters. Learn more about the importance of selecting the right cancer center and doctor for your care.

Speaker 1:                           Welcome to Bench To Bedside, a weekly series of live conversations about recent advances in cancer, from the research bench to treatment, at the patients bedside. And now your host, and the Director of the University of Kansas Cancer Center, Dr. Roy Jensen.

Dr. Roy Jensen:                 Welcome to Bench To Bedside. I'm Dr. Roy Jensen, Director of the University of Kansas Cancer Center. In the studio with me today is Dr. Terry Tsue, Vice President and Physician and Chief for our center. And he is here to discuss the importance of selecting the right cancer center, and the right doctor for your care. Welcome to the show Dr. Tsue.

Dr. Terry Tsue:                  Thank you.

Dr. Roy Jensen:                 First of all can you tell me a little bit about your role at the KU Cancer Center?

Dr. Terry Tsue:                  Sure, it's my honor and privilege to really work with the best cancer care team in the region. And it's our goal to provide the best state-of-the-art care in a patient centric, and personalized fashion, for every single cancer patient we see.

Dr. Roy Jensen:                 So I've heard you in the past, talk about the fact that no two cancers are alike. First of all what does this mean, and what implications does that have for an individual patients care?

Dr. Terry Tsue:                  Sure. Every cancer has a distinct appearance. And what I mean by that is in previous days, when we looked at them underneath a microscope, they looked very similar, two cancers could look very similarly. But when the genetic material, or the DNA was looked at, these were very, very different. And they act differently within the patient, and it's very important to determine that distinction. It's as distinctive for getting cancer as a thumb print. And that can help determine the right treatment and, the right type of following and surveillance of that patient, after their treatment.

Dr. Roy Jensen:                 So let's take the example of breast cancer. Say two different women have breast cancer, does that mean that it may be appropriate to treat them in completely different ways?

Dr. Terry Tsue:                  Absolutely, and it's very important to study that breast cancer intensively. And that can take some time to figure out exactly what that genetic footprint, and that thumbprint looks like, in order to figure out what the best therapy. And then in some cancers, it's not only important to figure out what the best therapy is, but some of these therapies can be de-intensified, or made less intensive, because we know they're not as aggressive.

                                                Whereas some cancers with certain types of footprints, are more aggressive, and we have to step up our efforts in fighting that cancer. In the long term it also can determine how aggressively, and how vigilantly we follow that cancer, to detect recurrences, and the problems that can come down later, after cancer therapy.

Dr. Roy Jensen:                 So as you're very well aware, we worked awfully hard a few years ago, to become an NCI designated cancer center, and there's a lot of bridges you have to cross, and hurdles you have to get over, to be able to qualify for that. So what does it mean to a patient whose receiving treatment at an NCI designated center like ours? How does this experience differ, compared to their going to a center that does not have NCI designation?

Dr. Terry Tsue:                  Well there's a significant difference, and it really could be summed up in terms of simply, survival advantage. It's well shown in the literature, and even the most recent literature, that there is significant survival advantage of being treated at an NCI designated cancer center. And this is due to several factors, first is the subspecialty, or very specific disease focus expertise available in these centers, including ours.

                                                And that means you have all the national, international expertise, and all their best friends and colleagues that study that same particular disease, available. To be able to study that patient, help that patient, and help determine their treatment plan.

                                                The other important aspect is the multi disciplinary care available in an NCI designated cancer center. The various experts are able to facilely communicate with each other, and they're used to treating very complex patients, that require very close communication in terms of the treatment regiment for very, each specific patient.

                                                And the third really important component is the portfolio of clinical trials. Clinical trials are treatment options, and it's important to have the latest, and most innovative clinical trials available to be able to offer your patients. And those are most commonly found at NCI designated cancer centers.

Dr. Roy Jensen:                 Mm-hmm (affirmative). So I'd like to explore clinical trails, and clinical research a little bit more. And tell me a little bit about the portfolio of trials that we have available here, at an NCI designated cancer center, versus other institutions that you might receive treatment at. And what does that mean specifically, for a patient? Tell me a little bit about clinical trials first of all.

Dr. Terry Tsue:                  Sure. Well clinical trials are really alternatives in new treatment options. And that's how we learn what actually will move the needle, and make things better for our patients. So it's important to have as many of those options made first, and studied in a very vigorously scientific way, so that we can know in fact it is making a difference for our patients.

                                                And not all clinical trials are the same. Therapeutic clinical trials are those that have a tangible difference in the survival, or outcome of a patient being treated. And our portfolio is very, very large with respect to those kind of trials. We have several other types of trials as well, that study quality of life, aspects of cancer.

                                                But really those, the portfolio therapeutically influencing clinical trials, is the most important. And NCI designated cancer centers are afforded those trials first and foremost, because of the experience. Because of the very large number of patients we treat, and because of the focus we have on very specific types of cancers, and moving the needle for our patients.

Dr. Roy Jensen:                 Mm-hmm (affirmative). So if you're just joining us, we're talking about the importance of selecting the right cancer center, and doctor for your cancer care. Remember to share this link with people you think might benefit from our discussion. Use the hashtag #BenchToBedside. What are some of the things a patient should look for when they're selecting their care?

Dr. Terry Tsue:                  Well cancer really is a lifelong journey, and your team that you work with in the cancer center, become your best friends, and your best teammates in the journey. And finding the best teammates is an important aspect of that. Really having the national, and the international renowned care givers by your side, helping you along that journey, is gonna be an important aspect of that.

                                                And having these important teammates be able to communicate, and work with each other, on a daily basis like they do for every single patient here at the Cancer Center, is also very important.  Having smooth transitions, and having facile decision making, and strong communication is very, very crucial to the success.

                                                And then having available to all these experts, the portfolio of clinical trials, is very, very important. These are treatment options, and these are the new treatment options that we're studying and understanding, to help really move the needle on increasing our outcomes, and improving our outcomes, for treatments of these cancers.

Dr. Roy Jensen:                 You know I think one way for folks to help understand this issue, is that our docs really have the luxury of being able to focus in relatively narrow areas. For instance our breast cancer patients basically never see a leukemic patient, and our leukemia docs, never have to see a breast cancer patient.

                                                And the treatment regiments, the modalities that you utilize, whether it's surgery or radiation, or chemotherapy, or immunotherapy, whatnot, they couldn't be more different for those two different diseases. So they really get to focus in on a specific subset of patients, and don't have the burden of trying to keep up in all of these different areas. Which as you said, is just impossible these days, given all of the advances that literally come out every single week in our field, across a whole range of cancers.

                                                You know the cancer centers program was, began with the National Cancer Act, back in 1971. And one of the questions, which I think has been out there, that we're now beginning to get some answers in regards to, what's the impact of going to an NCI designated center for a patient? And when you look at studies like the [Wolfson 00:10:20] paper, which came out a few years ago. And they looked at almost 70 thousand cancer patients in Los Angeles County, the outcomes for cancer patients treated at an NCI designated center verus elsewhere. And to me the results were really just jaw dropping.

                                                You look at the outcomes for lung cancer, 40% worse outcome if you weren't treated at an NCI designated center. If you look at liver cancer, or pancreatic cancer, 50% worse outcome. If you look at breast cancer, 30% worse outcome. And there was actually a paper that was just published that looked at acute myelogenous leukemia, and their patients treated outside of an NCI designated center, had a 50% worse outcome. And how, it's almost hard to explain to somebody, outside of medicine, what accounts for that. What do you think could have such a dramatic impact on the outcome for a cancer patient?

Dr. Terry Tsue:                  Well I think one of the major influencers of why there's such a stark, significant difference in outcomes when you're treated in an NCI designated cancer center versus not, is really new therapies, and new effective therapies, take many, many years to penetrate to all areas of the country that are receiving therapies, and giving therapies for specific types of cancer, and habits don't change easily.

                                                And the fastest, most innovative changes are happening, and widely communicated amongst the national cancer institute designated cancer centers. So those therapies that are working, are fast absorbed in these centers. And so they're brought to the front lines very rapidly in these centers, and made available to our patients.

Dr. Roy Jensen:                 Mm-hmm (affirmative). So any other advice that you'd like to share with our followers, about their choice of institution for therapy?

Dr. Terry Tsue:                  Sure. We're making great grounds in our success in battling cancers. There are five cancers that are increasing in incidents still, and we're still trying to understand why. Three of those are in the head and neck area. Prevention is the key and there are several things that we can do, like the human papillomavirus vaccine, to really get ahead of those curves, and help battle those cancers that are increasing in incidents.

                                                And it's also very important to be inquisitive. If someone in your family has cancer, or you're walking that journey with a friend, really help understand what's your risk, and how you can prevent it, and how you can have better nutrition and exercise, and take care of yourself. Because the best treatment is prevention.

Dr. Roy Jensen:                 Yeah. You know I'd like to go back to something you said about second opinions. I've never seen an outstanding physician who is afraid of referring their patient for a second opinion. Because they're completely confident that they're recommending the best possible therapy for their patient. So to me, a red flag is always, if somebody's actively discouraging you from going to seek an opinion elsewhere.

                                                So, thank you for joining us today. Our broadcast is ending, but we encourage you to continue the conversation by submitting your questions and comments. We will continue to monitor those throughout the day, and please tune in next Wednesday at 10 am, for our next episode of Bench To Bedside. Thank you for joining me.

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