Until recently, a cancer diagnosis was often considered a death sentence. Fortunately, today cancer is often looked at as a chronic disease, an illness that can be treated for years, even decades, the way many people live with diabetes.
Early Cancer Detection, Improved Treatments
“Early detection and improved treatment are allowing people with cancer to live longer and with a better quality of life,” said Raul Parra, MD, Medical Director of the Regional Cancer Center at Holy Name Medical Center.
“Look at prostate cancer – it is the most common cancer in men nationwide,” said Parra, a urologic oncologist. “In New Jersey, about 8,000 new cases are diagnosed annually, with a great proportion of them in North Jersey. Because of early detection and improved treatments, the death rate has declined significantly and men diagnosed with the disease are living longer lives with a better quality of life.”
Decline in Cancer Deaths. Reduced Side Effects
Deaths from all types of cancer have been declining in the last two decades and much of the survivorship is due not only to earlier diagnoses but to advancements in various types of treatments. Improved surgical techniques, radiation therapies and targeted medications have all helped keep the disease at bay for many patients, and put many more in remission. These enhanced treatments are also instrumental in reducing side-effects and long-term negative lifestyle changes.
Hoping to expand on these positive outcomes, oncologists are working with other clinical professionals to develop individualized treatment plans for each patient. Parra, who recently joined Holy Name, believes the future of cancer treatment is forming integrated teams that specialize in different types of cancer with each member holding a specific role in the treatment protocol. The advantage of these disease-specific treatment teams is that every patient receives highly specialized care from experts in that particular cancer.
Supporting the Entire Patient While Treating Cancer
“One of my priorities at Holy Name is to form teams that consist – depending on the needs of the patient – of a surgeon, radiation oncologist, oncologist, nurse, nutritionist, physical therapist, social worker and others to not only treat the cancer but to support the entire patient,” Parra said. “In the past, we just treated the disease. Now we treat the patient as a whole.”
“For example, if a woman is successfully treated for breast cancer, there still has to be a plan in place in case she develops complications,” Parra said. “We provide support teams for patients to address all aspects of the patient and the disease, from diagnosis through recovery.”
Cancer Patients Receive "Best Possible Treatment" Close to Home
At Holy Name, which specializes in providing health care with consideration for different cultures and practices, cancer treatment already encompasses pain management, language interpretation at all levels, physical therapy and social services.
“Most of the components are already here at Holy Name,” Parra said. “Everyone works in unison and patients not only get the best possible treatment here but they do so close to home without as much of an interruption in their lifestyle as if they travelled far to get treated.”