Testicular cancer doctor: Jonathan Yamzon says patients 'inspire me'

April 14, 2015 | by Abe Rosenberg

As far back as he can remember, Jonathan Yamzon, M.D., wanted to be a doctor.

Prostate cancer expert Jonathan Yamzon Testicular cancer expert Jonathan Yamzon says of his patients: "They inspire me. ... It's a privilege to usher and guide them on this journey."

“I knew it from the get-go,” he said, matter-of-factly. “I always envisioned it as the ideal; the supreme thing one could do with one's life.”

The youngest of six children, Yamzon was barely a toddler when his family moved to Los Angeles from the Philippines. He had plenty of hard-working role models. His mother and father were social workers. His siblings embodied the “aim high, don't waste time” philosophy, pushing young Jonathan to seize every opportunity, starting on the first day of school.

He did, excelling at each step. Top grades at Bishop Amat High School. Honors society at UC San Diego, where he earned a bioengineering degree. Singled out for special scholarships at Keck School of Medicine of USC. A challenging residency at Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center.

In 2010, he arrived  at City of Hope.

He doesn't argue when folks call him “driven.” Exercise is his relaxation. He tackles challenging mountain bike trails: the tougher, the better. He speaks in the calm, quiet, rapid-fire, sometimes hypertechnical, here-are-all-the-facts manner befitting a professional who's an expert in his field and totally devoted to his work.

Then there's the side of this proud father of two (“and one on the way!” he adds) that unmistakably marks Yamzon as one of City of Hope's best. Listen to the way he talks about his patients:

“They inspire me,” he said. “They energize and invigorate me. They're my insurance against burnout. It's a privilege to usher and guide them on this journey. To watch them face so many challenges. To see their resilience. It's truly meaningful to me in a deeply spiritual sense.”

Unique needs of testicular cancer patients

As assistant clinical professor and surgeon in City of Hope’s Division of Urology and Urologic Oncology, Yamzon treats everything from kidney stones to incontinence to a wide variety of cancers in patients of all ages. But he's clearly moved by the young adults battling testicular cancer (the typical patient is between 15 and 34), and he's mindful of their special needs.

“They have their whole lives ahead of them. I can only imagine what they must be thinking, how worried they must be, not only for themselves, but also for their young families, their small children.”

Each year, more than 8,400 men are diagnosed with testicular cancer, and about 380 die of the disease. The good news is, if detected early, testicular cancer has an overall five-year survival rate of 96 percent. Even when the cancer has spread, the odds remain favorable. Treatment involves surgery to remove the testicle, followed by chemotherapy and radiation when needed.

“This cancer responds remarkably well,” Yamzon said. “The chemo is very effective. And this cancer has tumor markers, which help us do a much better job of charting the progress of the treatment.”

Sometimes though, it's wise to take a “less-is-more” approach, and engage in what’s known as active surveillance: holding back on postsurgical radiation and chemo, rather than automatically administering them.

“We have to remember the longer time frame of a younger patient,” Yamzon said. “Radiation could affect his fertility. Chemotherapy may affect the heart, lungs, kidneys or nerves down the road.” Active surveillance helps avoid those risks.

New treatments expand options

So will newer treatments on the horizon. Yamzon is excited about the potential of robotic surgery (“not for everyone right now, but the envelope is being pushed. I want to do more of them”) and antibody-based protein profiling, which may one day produce even more effective drugs that will target cancer cells with greater precision. There's also promising work being done with ultra-high doses of chemotherapy, with the inevitable bone marrow damage repaired by stem cell therapy.

All of that, Yamzon said, makes City of Hope ideal for both doctor and patient because of the sheer abundance of expert resources at every level, from basic research, to creating better drugs, to running clinical trials and getting the latest therapies to the patients. “We translate from lab to clinic like no one else,” he says.

Perhaps even more important is everyone's willingness to pitch in, at any time, for any patient.

“It's a seamless team. We have so many specialists here, in so many disciplines,” he points out. “No matter how complicated the case, all I have to do is pick up the phone, call a colleague and I can get my patient in to see that doctor immediately. Just like that.”

Turns out, the caring atmosphere at City of Hope is contagious, typified by Daniel Samson, a recent patient.

“He was in the waiting room,” Yamzon recalled, “and he sees this woman sitting there, all by herself. Before you know it, Daniel is talking to her, listening to her, walking with her to X-ray, taking her to the lab, just so she wouldn't be alone.”

It's the kind of behavior that's commonplace among City of Hope staff, and Yamzon only wishes it were the norm everywhere.

“Why can't we all be just a little more ... human?”

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Learn more about the testicular cancer program at City of Hope.

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Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). You may also request a new patient appointment online. City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.

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