Cancer Treatment Centers of America

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Ken Burns latest PBS documentary focuses on cancer. His six-hour documentary, “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies,” starts airing March 30 over three nights. Cancer Treatment Centers of America Western Regional Medical Center in Goodyear offers the latest technologies to treat cancer, with an approach that uses a variety of treatments that is backed with nutritional care as well. Dr. Glen Weiss, medical oncologist and director of clinical research at the Goodyear facility, will discuss his company’s approach to fighting cancer.

Ted Simons: Ken Burns' latest PBS documentary is titled "Cancer: The Emperor of all Maladies." It's a six-hour film that will be shown over three nights, starting Monday here on Eight Arizona PBS. Tonight, we look at a local effort to fight cancer. Dr. Glen Weiss is the medical oncologist and director of clinical research at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America Western Regional Medical Center in Goodyear. And he joins us now, good to have you here. Thanks for joining us. The cancer treatment center of America. How does that differ from other cancer treatment centers?

Glen Weiss: Cancer treatment centers of America is a cancer center where we see patients with all stages of disease from early stage to advanced stage cancer and we have a variety of different services that are provided, besides just having a medical oncologist and access to surgeons, radiation oncologists, we also have naturopathic physicians and chiropractic medicine and acupuncture that take care of the person as a whole.

Ted Simons: Is that unusual to have those naturopathic services within such a clinical setting?

Glen Weiss: We have an integrative care model and that does exist at other sites but we have one that is more cohesive. Where we all work together as a team.

Ted Simons: It sounds like technology combined with natural therapy is what we're talking about here.

Glen Weiss: Yes.

Ted Simons: And it sounds as well as though managing side effects, which I mean it seems when people talk about cancer they are more concerned about the side effects than they are with what they're really fighting. Talk to us about that.

Glen Weiss: Some people may have nausea or they may have hair loss or other side effects, fatigue, and they're very assuaged that we can reduce those issues and we have traditional medicines that are available from the medical oncologists or the physician perspective and from naturopathic medicine. We also have some other remedies that can help alleviate some of those symptoms.

Ted Simons: Looking for boosting energy during treatment, what are some of the options?

Glen Weiss: So some of the options that we have, as M.D.s, we have prescription medications that can boost energy in people that are feeling down. For other -- in the other specialties, we have other more natural supplements that can be tried and all the remedies that we're using, these are traditionally based on evidence-based medicine so they have some degree of evidence behind them and why they may work and of course, we also make sure that what we're doing to treat symptoms does not interfere with our main goal to control the cancer or rid the cancer from that patient.

Ted Simons: I know that individualized treatment seems to be very much in vogue these days, very much a pattern. How individualized can a cancer treatment be?

Glen Weiss: So there are a variety of cancers. If we look at the major types, breast cancer, lung cancer, pancreas cancer, when you get down to the molecular level and testing those individual cancers, each one of them are quite distinct. So if someone has breast cancer, we're talking about different molecules and different proteins that are expressed on that tumor and each one of those patients that have the different types of cancer are treated according to different evidence-based treatments, and then we also have opportunities from clinical trials to try to improve on the results on which we already have known treatments.

Ted Simons: As well as well-known treatments, chemo, radiation, are there advancements? Have things changed over the years?

Glen Weiss: So in the last 10 years or so, we've had an onslaught of molecularly based therapies. One of the earliest examples was the approval of matinib which changed the course for patients with blood cancer and instead of that being a cancer where people would survive for months to a couple of years, now there are people that are living with this disease for 10 years or more. In addition, we have other advances in breast cancer and lung cancer. We also have a whole new realm of treatments called immunotherapy, which has been reported a lot in the press lately and these are some of the most promising things that we've seen and more addressing boosting the immune system of a patient to try to attack the cancer rather than targeting the specific molecular structures.

Ted Simons: How would you boost the immune system?

Glen Weiss: Some of these immune system boosting therapies are actually antibodies which are just like antibodies in our body but these are designed or engineered from the laboratory to target receptors called t-cells and by targeting the t-cells, they release the breaks off the immune system to try to help the patient's own body identify the cancer as abnormal and fight it.

Ted Simons: As far as imaging now, have we seen advancements there where you can get a better indication of what's going on, a finer picture, if you will?

Glen Weiss: So again over the last five, 10 years, improvements in imaging, a lot of that is because of improvements in computer technology and processing, so we have better, finer detail that we can review someone's scans by C.T. scan or MRI. We also have pet C.T. which is also something that's used to try to determine the extent of where someone's cancer is and where it's spreading.

Ted Simons: What about genetics research? How far along are we in that?

Glen Weiss: We have a lot of information about genetics, whether or not someone is at risk for developing certain types of cancer and there's specially approved testing that can be done for those risk factors. We also have molecular genomics or assessment of patients' tumors to understand the makeup of that cancer and we're using a lot of those tools that are available to us to try to determine which group of cancer that patient actually has and how best to treat them.

Ted Simons: It sounds like a lot of this, while it's well advanced and moving forward, it's still -- it feels like it's in its infancy.

Glen Weiss: There's been a lot of changes. Since the first complete genomic sequence of a human was reported 10 years ago, we've gone and delved into the molecular makeup of cancer, and then within that, there are hundreds or thousands of different varieties and it's a lot of work that's ongoing and there's some initial progress we're seeing with treatments.

Ted Simons: Realistically, I know you're going to say yes but just realistically, will cancer ever be beaten?

Glen Weiss: I think it depends on the type of cancer we're talking about. We're not going to be able to prevent all cancers. At some point, there's still a high probability that individuals will develop cancer during their lifetime. For women it's 1 in 2 during their lifetime will develop some type of cancer and for men it's 1 in 3 individuals will develop cancer. We can reduce that risk but in an individual that develops that cancer, we're hopefully going to have better and smarter treatments to be able to treat that cancer and potentially cure those patients. If we're talking about early stages of the disease, we have a lot of curative treatments and if it's something that's advanced, we've made a lot of progress in cancers like testicular where it used to be a death sentence, and now survival is in the 80 to 90% range. We hope to apply that to breast cancer, lung cancer, pancreas cancer.

Ted Simons: We're looking forward to the Ken Burns documentary. It's good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Glen Weiss: Thank you for having me.

Dr. Glen Weiss:Medical Oncologist and Director of Clinical Research, Cancer Treatment Centers of America Western Regional Medical Center;

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