City of Hope physician and researcher Smita Bhatia, M.D., M.P.H., not only helps children survive cancer, but also aims to give them a safe bridge into adulthood.
The transition out of adolescence can be difficult for childhood cancer patients; survivors may still have to deal with lingering health issues while they struggle to get their own health insurance.
These are no small challenges, and Bhatia wants public policymakers to know about them — so they can change policy to help.
Bhatia, chair of City of Hope’s Division of Population Sciences, raised the issues before congressional staff members earlier this year at a briefing on Capitol Hill that addressed ways to improve long-term care and quality of life for childhood cancer survivors. The briefing was co-sponsored by City of Hope and the Alliance for Childhood Cancer, in coordination with Reps. Hilda Solis and Mary Bono Mack, both from California.
Smita Bhatia (Photo ©2007 Phillip Channing)
A nationally recognized expert in pediatric cancer survivorship, Bhatia has chaired the Late Effects Committee of the Children’s Oncology Group (COG) for the past eight years. COG is a national consortium that establishes national guidelines for how doctors should best care for survivors of childhood cancers, even many years after their treatment.
As Bhatia explained, about one in every 540 adults between ages 20 and 39 is a long-term cancer survivor. As many as two-thirds of these survivors may be affected by life-threatening or severe chronic health problems, she noted.
Chemotherapy and radiation treatment often can cause lasting damage to the heart, nerves and other organs, slow bone growth and elevate the risk of other diseases or different cancers.
To help, Bhatia and fellow panelists advocated passage of HR 4450, The Pediatric, Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Survivorship Research and Quality of Life Act. Bhatia helped draft the bill, which was sponsored by Solis and Bono Mack.
Bill HR 4450 proposes these steps:
- New National Institutes of Health cancer survivorship programs, including grants to address health disparities in childhood cancer survivorship
- Clinics to provide comprehensive long-term follow-up services for survivors of childhood cancer
- Grants to improve childhood cancer survivors’ access to care
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cancer control programs to provide guidance to states and encourage them to improve systems of care for survivors of childhood cancer
Even though many of today’s treatments are less toxic than before, the 12,000 pediatric patients diagnosed with cancer each year eventually may develop other health problems, so follow-up care for all these survivors is crucial, said Bhatia.
“In the past four decades we have made a tremendous amount of progress in childhood cancer survival,” Bhatia said. “However, two-thirds of these survivors suffer from delayed onset chronic health conditions, necessitating comprehensive, long-term follow-up by an experienced multidisciplinary team of health-care providers.”
|The need for increased research funding|
by Alicia Di Rado
City of Hope staff recently met with California legislators in Washington, D.C., to discuss the importance of boosting National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding.
The NIH budget, including funding for the National Cancer Institute (NCI), has remained nearly flat for two years, and has grown slowly since 2003, a trend that limits available federal dollars for research into cancer and other diseases. City of Hope’s Robert A. Figlin, M.D., Arthur and Rosalie Kaplan Professor of Medical Oncology and interim director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Kristen Pugh, associate vice president of government and community relations, urged legislators to increase funds for much-needed research and training for the cancer workforce.
Among others, staff members spoke with Rep. Jerry Lewis, ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee.
“Without increased NIH and NCI funding, we will not be able to support the next generation of cancer researchers to continue in the fight on cancer,” Figlin said.
City of Hope participated through the Association of American Cancer Institutes, American Association for Cancer Research and Friends of Cancer Research Capitol Hill Advocacy Day.