We are at an incredibly exciting and dynamic time in the development of new therapies in the fight against cancer. Every single accelerant is a potential mother, father, husband, wife, friend, or child with the potential to be saved from this terrible disease. There is great opportunity in at least five key areas:
1. Treatment Partnerships. Human health is too complex a system, and cancer is too powerful an enemy, to go it alone. Yet so much of health care has been characterized and slowed by isolated, insular systems. As we strive toward better treatments and cures, providers must partner to share data, coordinate care, and get patients to the right point of care at the right time—even if that means directing patients to a different provider for some, or all, of their care. Equally important is the removal of geographic barriers. Our system must invest in and find creative ways to implement and deliver innovative diagnostic procedures. One pathway to ensure all those with cancer receive the right treatment at the right time is via telehealth. Cancer doesn’t discriminate based on geography, and neither can we. As a system, we must connect patients in need with the foremost experts, regardless of where they reside.
2. Greater Access to Precision Medicine. Our ability to screen for and determine the specific genetic make-up of cancer at this current moment in time is off the charts. Scientists have developed such advances as molecular testing, next-generation sequencing, liquid biopsy, and digital pathology to enable earlier clinical analysis and increase survival exponentially. However, some treatment centers and providers may be ill-equipped to implement these tests. That must change. Access to sophisticated tests on the front lines—namely at the initial presentation and/or at community-level treatment centers and outpatient community clinics—will accelerate the process and thereby reduce the time needed for the patient and provider to find an effective solution.
3. Fueling Innovation Through Faster Trials and Real-World Data. We know clinical trials are essential to discovery, and this is another opportunity for us to accelerate timetables and expedite the rate at which patients enter trials and ultimately receive treatment. At Cancer Treatment Centers of America, we are partnering with a company whose model is designed to speed up enrollment and shorten the activation of trials. By employing this type of model shift, we believe we can reduce recruitment from eight months to as little as two weeks. In addition, we now can leverage real-world data and identify new solutions for patients. By creating an open-source model to share data across cancer treatment centers, we will gain faster access to the most innovative research and solutions for our patients and be better able to identify the right avenue for their care and treatment. Time is crucial for every person with cancer, and we must create a flexible system to share and drive these innovations in a shorter timeframe.
4. Cancer Prevention and/or Transformation to Chronic Illness. As the adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, yet far too many people live their lives without the knowledge of prevention or even the knowledge that cancer is preventable. The reality is that over 50 percent of cancer is preventable through lifestyle and health modifications. In addition, for the more than 15 million survivors in America today, there is tremendous opportunity to prevent recurrence through adherence to wellness and clinical protocols. Similar to cardiac care over the past 30 years, the emphasis on cancer must expand to include prevention, acute treatment, and survivorship phases. Newer therapies offer the opportunity to dramatically extend the life of a cancer patient and maintain their health through medication and monitoring, similar to other chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. Just as modern medicine has transformed HIV from a death sentence to a more manageable chronic disease, we have the power to evolve cancer from what may be, in many cases, a fatal disease to a chronic illness.
5. Faster Pathways to Diagnosis. A study published in PLOS One earlier this year revealed that the time from diagnosis to initial cancer treatment in the US has recently increased from 21 to 29 days, resulting in an “absolute increased risk of mortality from 1.2–3.2 percent per week in curative settings for early-stage breast, lung, renal and pancreas cancers.” Simply put, we need an expedited review of results to achieve an accurate diagnosis at a much faster pace. Leveraging artificial intelligence or telemedicine can help close the gap on time spent waiting to interpret and share results from these tests. When time matters, a value-based design centered around early detection, coupled with improving efficiencies within the treatment setting, is the first step to a cure.
Absolute cures are the end goal for all providers; however, we are here to help our patients today. We must address the fixable issues within the system and regain the most important resource in cancer care: time. Cures for individuals are fueled by cross-collaboration and research. We must fight to make incremental steps in the short term while researchers strive for the big answers. By taking a smarter approach to early detection, diagnosis, innovation, and treatment, we can improve our patients’ chances of obtaining the best care, in the right way and at the right time.