Recognizing the important role the family doctor plays in the treatment of cancer patients, Beaufort Memorial Hospital presented its first educational conference directed specifically to primary care physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants.
Three cancer experts from the prestigious Duke University Health System, along with five specialists from BMH, discussed advancements in the treatment of breast and colon cancers — two of the most prevalent forms of the disease in the Lowcountry.
The free, half-day conference, held last week at the Keyserling Cancer Center, included a presentation by Adam Buchanan, a genetic counselor at the Duke Cancer Institute. The purpose of genetic testing, he told the group, is to help monitor and direct treatment for patients predisposed to develop cancer.
“We provide them with concrete things they can do to reduce their risk, including screenings, surgery and preventive medications,” Buchanan said. “For women who already have been diagnosed with breast cancer, knowing they’ve inherited a mutation in the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene can help them decide if they should have more aggressive treatment and how to manage their risk for a second cancer.”
Women with an average risk of developing breast cancer should begin having annual mammograms at age 40. Statistics show 80 out of 1,000 screenings will reveal an abnormality, requiring further testing to determine if it’s a tumor.
“Ten will need a biopsy to evaluate the abnormal findings,” said BMH general surgeon Dr. Perry Burrus. “Three of those will have cancer.”
Dr. Linda Sutton, medical director of the Duke Oncology Network, followed with a presentation on the effect diet and exercise can have on breast cancer. The most dramatic findings involved the consumption of alcohol. Research has revealed the risk of developing breast cancer increases 10 percent with just one drink a day.
“It’s the one factor that consistently increases the risk,” said Sutton, associate professor of medicine at Duke. “There is no safe level of consuming alcohol.”
The second half of the conference focused on colorectal cancer, which killed an estimated 51,000 men and women in the United States in 2010. Duke gastrointestinal oncologist Dr. Hope Uronis discussed the use of targeted therapies in conjunction with chemotherapy to battle the disease.
Avastin, a drug first used in 2003, has extended the survival rate of advanced-stage colon cancer patients by five months. Since then, two more drugs have been added to the cancer-fighting arsenal.
“With targeted therapy, we have more options to treat patients longer,” said Uronis, an assistant professor of medicine at Duke University. “It’s incremental improvements.”
Back when there was only one chemotherapy drug, the median survival rate for a patient with Stage 4 colon cancer was six months. Today, it’s two years.
While colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, it’s also one of the most preventable cancers. BMH gastroenterologist Dr. Kevin Kearney strongly urged primary care physicians to talk with their patients about getting a screening.
“It’s so important to keep primary care physicians in the loop,” said Dr. Majd Chain, medical director of BMH oncology services. “As specialists, we depend on their expertise to help manage side effects like hypertension, depression, insomnia and fatigue. They’re an integral part of the team.”