The 2021 People v. Cancer summit, hosted by The Atlantic, explored the latest in cancer research and the important ways in which prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and well-being are interrelated. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, progress continues to be made toward not only treating cancer and extending lives, but creating a more robust, holistic ecosystem of care. The virtual event brought together medical providers, scientists, survivors, and patients for in-depth conversations about the future of cancer care and what can be done to improve lives for all—along the entire spectrum of care. MSK experts, Vinod Balachandran, Ginger Gardner, and Vincent Laudone, lent their voices to these important conversations.
Surgeon, Vinod Balachandran, MD, highlighted his research involving mRNA vaccines for cancer. As a pancreatic cancer expert, Dr. Balachandran emphasized that one of the challenges, even with early detection in pancreatic cancer, is the need for effective and better treatments. Pancreatic cancer is soon to become the second leading cause of cancer related deaths in the United States in only the next three years.
Despite this, he explained this is an exciting time for oncology as, “we are at the beginning of unlocking the potential of mRNA vaccines…and how we can develop these technologies to treat cancers.” Dr. Balachandran noted that we will need “a lot more science…and collaboration between academia, biotechnology companies and more federal funding to be able to support these types of clinical trials.” He said that while, “we are still at the early stage of this, there are exciting times ahead.”
Gynecologic oncologist, Ginger Gardner, MD, discussed the need to educate the public about gynecologic cancers. “One in five individuals is diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer every five minutes. It is a frequent diagnosis, but we recognize that we need to increase the awareness. This is particularly a challenge for historically marginalized communities…we need to bring this into the national dialogue so that women can get the information they need for appropriate screening, symptom recognition and early treatment.”
Dr. Gardner, also Vice Chair of Hospital Operations in the Department of Surgery, noted MSK’s commitment to furthering research, examining financial toxicity, and creating access points for patients beyond the urban center by expanding our footprint in a meaningful way.
Chief of Surgery at Josie Robertson Surgery Center, Vincent Laudone, MD, joined NBC’s Al Roker, as he reflected on his personal experience with prostate cancer and how he decided to use his platform to increase awareness of the disease.
While prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and the second leading cause of cancer death in men, Dr. Laudone explained that “prostate cancer is not a symptom-driven disease. Most men with prostate cancer – up to 90 percent – don’t have any symptoms whatsoever when diagnosed. The first indication is an abnormal blood test or rectal examination.” A fact that highlights the importance of regular screenings and annual physical exams. Contributing risk factors noted by Dr. Laudone include family history and race. “While we don’t yet understand why, African American men are diagnosed about one and half times more often and have about two times the chances of dying from prostate cancer,” explained Dr. Laudone. He suggested that men in their 40s should talk to their doctors about screening.
View the full Atlantic People V. Cancer online here.