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Collaborate and Innovate: RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey advancing cancer treatments CANCER CARE 2018

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At the American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting in February, Dr. Andrew Evens presented a study showing the best outcomes to date for certain older Hodgkin lymphoma patients.

In addition to offering the latest in vital research, the paper presented by Evens — the associate director for clinical services and director of the Lymphoma Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and the medical director of the oncology service line at RWJBarnabas Health — was an example of the important advances that can result when two leading health care organizations collaborate.

A unique partnership

“The partnership between RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey — the state’s only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center and universally recognized for its scientific leadership — enables us to offer patients access to the latest solutions in the fight against cancer,” notes Dr. Steven Libutti, director of Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and senior vice president of Oncology Services for RWJBarnabas Health.

“The shared goal of both RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers Cancer Institute,” he continued, “is to develop centers of excellence across the state; invest in clinical, academic, and research innovations; educate health professionals; and improve health through coordinated patient outreach, prevention and treatment of disease.”

Handling a cancer diagnosis is challenging enough without having to worry about where to go to receive the best care and how that process will come together, notes Libutti.

“Looking for a facility with comprehensive services and specialists all in one location or within one network is ideal, as is having access to unique treatments such as clinical trials,” he said. “Proximity of a center to home or work is also key when considering where to receive cancer care. Cancer doesn’t travel well, and there’s no reason why patients and families should have to drive more than 30 minutes for care.”

The partnership between RWJBH and Rutgers Cancer Institute enables the institutions to deliver a comprehensive care delivery model that spans multiple locations across New Jersey.

Dr. Steven K. Libutti, director, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey; and senior vice president of Oncology Services, RWJBarnabas Health.
Dr. Steven K. Libutti, director, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey; and senior vice president of Oncology Services, RWJBarnabas Health.

“This includes access to unique clinical trials and technologies as well as services people don’t think of as relating to a treatment plan — including nutritional guidance, and social work counseling,” Libutti says. “This approach enables access to interdisciplinary care, pulling all practitioners together into teams, allowing patients to see everyone at once. We then rapidly navigate that patient to the part of our program that is best suited to result in the best possible outcome and is most convenient for the patient.”

Getting personal with Libutti

“As a surgeon, researcher and a clinician, I’ve seen cancer ‘up close’ on a daily basis for some 30 years,” says Dr. Steven K. Libutti, director of Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and senior vice president of Oncology Services for RWJBarnabas Health. “Knowing the vast scientific and technological advances made throughout that time, I am always hopeful those advances are leading to longer and more productive lives for our patients. When I receive a note or call from a patient and they tell me they celebrated a wedding or a child’s graduation, I feel that all the hard work that our teams and our patients devote is well worth it. There is no better feeling.” He’s particularly proud of working alongside a compassionate team of professionals at both Rutgers Cancer Institute and RWJBH. “Their dedication to treating the ‘whole’ patient as a team is something I draw inspiration from every day,” he said.

Helping patients in their treatment journey

This kind of “seamless connectivity” enables patients to limit travel time, keeping them close to home, work and their families. “At Rutgers Cancer Institute and RWJBH, we treat the ‘whole’ patient, with quality of life also being part of the treatment plan,” according to Libutti.

Federal health agencies report that nearly 40 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes. But the number of people living beyond a cancer diagnosis reached nearly 14.5 million in 2014 and is expected to rise to almost 19 million by 2024.

As one of only 49 Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the country as designated by the National Cancer Institute, Rutgers Cancer Institute can offer access to unique clinical trials exploring investigational therapies that may not be offered anywhere else in the region.

Combining technology and the human touch

“Through a recent clinical research partnership with Saint Barnabas Medical Center at RWJBH, the most advanced clinical trials are now offered to patients in their community at an outstanding facility,” says Libutti. “This provides improved access to cutting-edge treatments such as immunotherapy and precision medicine-based agents. Meanwhile, laboratory and clinical research conducted onsite at Rutgers Cancer Institute helps propel the development of clinical trials, so we can literally bring the science ‘from bench to bedside and back again,’ enabling us to personalize treatment for patients in a rapid fashion.”

Along with clinical trial access, technological and surgical advances are important in reducing the cancer burden. Another example of collaboration involves Rutgers Cancer Institute and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital — an RWJBarnabas Health facility — which enables RWJUH to offer advanced treatments like proton therapy and bone marrow/stem cell transplants; it’s one of only two locations in the state that can do so.

“Those facilities also offer unique surgical expertise in the treatment of mesothelioma and abdominal cavity cancers through a procedure involving surgery and a form of heated chemotherapy known as CRS-HIPEC, a treatment only offered at a few centers in the Northeast,” he adds. “And while becoming more commonplace, the hospitals in the system offer robotic forms of surgery for urologic and gynecologic malignancies.”

RWJBH operates 11 hospitals across the state, and three Pediatric Cancer Service locations, offering service to a population of 5 million individuals. “Our collaboration means that a patient seen at an RWJBH facility in Ocean County may benefit from a consult or clinical trial opportunity at Rutgers Cancer Institute’s New Brunswick site,” Libutti says. “The aim is to be able to provide these services at the location best suited for the patient, while this seamless connectivity enables patients to limit their travel time.”

A telemedicine program enabling patients and physicians anywhere in the system to consult with experts at the Rutgers Cancer Institute is in development.

Early detection can save lives

One of the major challenges in fighting cancer is early detection; and the chances for a cure are increased when cancer is diagnosed at an earlier stage.

“That is why Rutgers Cancer Institute, in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Health and regional health care providers has launched ScreenNJ,” according to Libutti. “This program is focused on education, outreach and navigation to increase the screening for colon and lung cancer, two cancers that are among the top three most common malignancies and the top two causes of cancer related deaths.”

Research has shown that not smoking (or stopping if you do), eating healthy, being physically active and participating in regular cancer screenings can help reduce one’s risk of developing cancer.

“All of these issues should be a topic of conversation with one’s physician,” says Libutti. “It’s part of the process in identifying health regimens that take into consideration one’s age, overall health, family history and other important factors.”

RWJBH and the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey will continue to help, he adds.

“Enhancements in supportive care and survivorship are forthcoming to Rutgers Cancer Institute, and we have expanded our clinical offerings at Rutgers Cancer Institute and RWJBH to include treatment of neuroendocrine tumors and mesothelioma. Over the past year, Rutgers Cancer Institute has grown and enhanced its team with numerous oncology specialists and the addition of nurse navigators. Our expertise in precision medicine and immunotherapy is unsurpassed, but as important as our cutting-edge capabilities are, I think the most important issue is that we always put the patient first.”

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