November 19, 2012 | by Shawn Le
Smita Bhatia, M.D., M.P.H., knows not to nag her patients, though she is protective of them and is looking out for their best interests. Yet, she’s more than familiar with trying to get teens and young adults to think about their future, especially when they may be celebrating their present victory over cancer.
As the Ruth Ziegler Chair in Population Sciences and director of City of Hope’s Center for Cancer Survivorship, Bhatia is focused on ensuring that childhood cancer survivors don’t win one fight only to fall to other related-conditions later in life.
There are an estimated 12 million cancer survivors (PDF link) in the U.S., and that population will grow as researchers make more discoveries about cancer and develop better treatments for the disease. City of Hope celebrates each and every cure or remission, but it also recognizes that survivors are at greater risk of developing other long-term health conditions such as second cancers, congestive heart failure and diabetes.
“The fact that they’ve survived five years and are cured of this cancer is not the end of the story,” Bhatia says. These chronic conditions can arise years later, when patients are focused on moving ahead with their lives – not dealing with the aftermath of their cancer.
Bhatia doesn’t want to wait until patients experience those symptoms, but wants to intervene right at the start, even during treatment for their current cancers, to either prevent or better manage those long-term risks.
Bhatia’s research is helping to identify specific risks in different groups – whether increased breast cancer risk in girls and young women who were treated with radiation to the chest, or increased risk of congestive heart failure in African American and Hispanic pediatric patients from treatment with anthracycline chemotherapy.
While looking at root causes, she’s also investigating preventive care or even changes in cancer treatment that will help survivors lower any risk in later life. City of Hope’s Department of Populations Sciences conducts research into cancer before it develops and after it’s cured. Most of everyone’s attention is on cures, but City of Hope we knows there’s more to a patient than the disease.