William Tap is Chief of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Sarcoma Medical Oncology Service. Learn more about how he chose a career in providing cutting-edge treatment to people with different types of soft tissue sarcoma and why patients benefit from coming to Memorial Sloan Kettering for treatment.
What sparked your interest in oncology, and treating patients with sarcoma in particular?
Oncology was something I got interested in during medical school. I had several clinical mentors who were oncologists, and I got to see up close the strong physician-patient relationship that develops. I thought oncology offered a unique insight into that relationship.
I chose sarcoma as my specialty because I felt it was an area of unmet need in medical oncology. There is an opportunity to have a real impact in the field by doing research, which brings in new therapies for patients and enables new understanding about this complex set of diseases.
What is special about being a medical oncologist in sarcoma at Memorial Sloan Kettering?
It really comes down to the resources we have to perform the type of research that is needed to improve patient care. There are some amazing scientific minds here: basic and translational researchers and clinicians who all focus on sarcoma. From surgeons and pathologists to radiologists and radiation oncologists, we have a whole team of experts who have dedicated their lives to treating patients with sarcoma.
Because sarcoma is so rare, not many doctors see it in community hospitals — or even at most academic medical centers. Patients come from all over the world to be treated here. And when patients are diagnosed with sarcoma, it’s important for them to come to a center of excellence like ours to make sure they are on the right path with their treatments.
One great thing about Memorial Sloan Kettering is that in addition to the medical care we offer, we have social and support systems in place for sarcoma patients. We also have the expertise to be able to help patients navigate through the difficulties of treatment, including issues like working with insurance companies.
When patients come to me, I tell them I’m in this business because I have hope that I can help them. My whole team does. I tell them we are going to take this journey together, and I will be there to support them along the way.
How does research contribute to better treatments for patients with sarcoma?
Because sarcoma is actually many different kinds of cancer — more than 50 subtypes — we need to pull from many areas of basic research to understand all those various types. Translational research bridges the labs with the clinics and brings science to the patients more quickly. But to do that, you have to have crosstalk between all these experts.
We also have to listen to and learn from our patients, so there is a bidirectional flow from the lab to the clinic and back. We can learn a lot from what patients tell us about how a drug is affecting them and what its side effects are. It helps us determine the most appropriate way to use the drug. We also listen to what a patient’s disease is telling us and what their scans reveal about how effective the drugs are.
I’m a firm believer that sarcoma research is blowing up right now. As an area of unmet need, it is fertile ground for drug and technology advances. More people are investing resources in the development of better sarcoma treatments, and because of that I expect to see a great boost in new treatments in the next five years.