Citizens of Hope - Caregivers - Jeffrey Wong

Radiation therapy is often viewed as a last resort, meant only for advanced and late-stage cancers. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Jeffrey Wong, M.D., chair of City of Hope’s Division of Radiation Oncology.
To hear him tell it, doctors today can use radiation to help cure many cancers that haven’t spread. With each cancer type he ticks off with his fingers — lung, head and neck, breast, brain, cervical and so on — one thing becomes patently clear: radiation therapy saves patients’ lives.

That passion grew from seeds sown in high school. Once an aspiring engineer, he tried a summer internship in immunology, which sparked his interest in life sciences. His “aha” moment came as a college student at Stanford University: An article in the Stanford Daily described the field of radiation oncology, which seemed like a perfect blend of physics and biomedicine. The chance to work with patients sealed his career choice.

Now, Wong is building on City of Hope’s position as a radiation oncology leader in Southern California to advance his field as a whole.

“We’ve acquired some of the latest and most distinctive technologies available,” he explained. City of Hope was first in the Western United States to use TomoTherapy, a treatment that tightly focuses radiation therapy where it’s most needed. That means more radiation goes to tumors, potentially making it more effective, while less goes to vulnerable healthy tissue, reducing side effects.

Wong’s team is the first in the world to use that technology for total marrow irradiation, the use of high-dose radiation spanning almost the entire body, as part of a multidisciplinary treatment for multiple myeloma patients and patients with other blood cancers. Radiation partners with chemotherapy and hematopoietic cell transplantation to offer hope for a disease with few other options. “With TomoTherapy, we’re seeing normal organs getting less than 65 percent of the total radiation. Sometimes it’s as low as 15 percent compared to standard radiation therapy approaches,” Wong said.

The group’s success has drawn them to speak at medical conferences around the world.

“As we move forward,” he said, “we want to become a beta test site for next-generation technologies.”

Wong hopes the advances will continue to grow radiation therapy’s potential as a first, successful treatment option for many patients. “A radiation oncology consultation should be among the first steps,” he said. “I want patients to know this. It could literally save their lives.”