Oncology Services

Specializing Institutions

Oncology is a branch of medicine that deals with tumors (cancer), from screening, diagnosis, therapy and surgery. The most important diagnostic tools in oncology are biopsies, endoscopies, X-rays, MRI scanning and blood tests. Interventions depend on the nature of the tumor. Often, surgery is attempted to remove a tumor entirely. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are used as first-line radical treatments. Since cancer can occur in so many of the body’s systems, many doctors choose to specialize in a particular branch of oncology, such as bone cancer or blood diseases. Oncology also involves the research into cancer, its causes and possible cures. Lung cancer is by far the most fatal cancer in men, followed by prostate and colon. In women, lung and breast cancer are the leading sites of cancer death.

The South Texas Medical Center is home to the only academic treatment and research center in the South Texas Region. Patients can benefit by gaining access to new drugs that are unavailable in other cancer centers. We are also home to an internationally recognized Phase I clinical drug program.

Oncology services at the South Texas Medical Center extend the sophistication of radiation therapy. Our oncologists and researchers practice and pioneer innovative techniques to treat patients using advanced radiation systems such as the TomoTherapy® Hi Art® unit. The unit, one of only three available in Texas, integrates optimized planning, image guidance, and continuous 360° delivery for precise radiation therapy from all angles around the patient. Other cancer therapies and services that patients can find at the South Texas Medical Center include Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT), High Dose Rate (HDR) brachytherapy and Novalis Tx Radiosurgery.

Patients and their families can receive non-medical oncology services at the South Texas Medical Center. These services include lectures, support groups, nutrition advice, psychological and emotional assistance, social services and more.

The National Cancer Institute has recognized one of our institutions for its excellence in cancer treatment and patient service, making the South Texas Medical Center a source of hope for many and a hub of oncology research and innovation.

Pediatric Oncology Services

Pediatric Oncology is a branch of medicine concerned with the diagnoses and treatment of cancer in children. It is considered one of the most challenging specialties because of its high mortality rate. Pediatric Oncologists take a slightly different course in their education compared to regular oncologists. Some of them, for instance, become pediatricians after completing medical school and later specialize further in oncology. Cancer affects about 14 of every 100,000 children in the United States each year. The most common cancers in children are leukemia, lymphoma and brain cancer. Typically, factors that trigger cancer in kids differ from those that cause cancer in adults, such as smoking or exposure to environmental toxins. Rarely, there may be an increased risk of cancer in kids who have a genetic condition, such as Down syndrome. Childhood cancers can occur suddenly, without early symptoms.

The South Texas Medical Center features one of the most specialized children’s cancer research centers in the nation. The research center is organized around our major programs and is comprised of an interdisciplinary group of faculty and field experts. The center’s mission is to advance scientific knowledge relevant to childhood cancer and to accelerate the translation of knowledge into novel therapies.

Oncology Articles

  • Navigators can help guide breast cancer patients through care

    By Ronnie Cohen

    NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Patient navigators may be able to help steer women with breast cancer through what can be a daunting treatment process, a new study suggests.

    Breast cancer kills a disproportionate share of low-income and African-American women, researchers note, and employing patient navigators is thought to be a potential way to assist underserved patients.

    "There are a lot of barriers for patients who are poor and have a low health literacy. We're really hoping that patient navigation is the solution," said Dr. Naomi Ko, who led the study at Boston University School of Medicine.

    Navigators can provide comfort, accompany patients to medical meetings, translate, map transit routes and repeat and explain complex medical recommendations.

    "We really need to figure out why it helps and where it helps. And if we can do that right, we have the potential to help a lot of needy, vulnerable, low-income minority patients get the right and timely care," Ko told Reuters Health.

    She and her team examined the records of 1,288 racially diverse women diagnosed with breast cancer at eight centers across the U.S. Roughly half of the women were assigned navigators and the rest were not.

    The researchers sought to determine whether women with navigators might be more likely to get guideline-recommended treatment. Based on women's age and the type and size of their breast tumors, that treatment included anti-estrogen therapy, radiation or chemotherapy.

    Participants eligible for anti-estrogen therapy had a 73 percent greater chance of getting that treatment when they had a navigator. That was after taking into account other potential differences between women, such as their age, ethnicity, language, insurance and treatment site.

    The finding was particularly promising because poor, minority women can have low levels of use of anti-estrogen therapy, the authors write in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. The medication treats hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer by lowering estrogen levels and blocking estrogen's ability to act on breast cancer cells.

    Navigators, however, did not seem to influence whether women received radiation after breast-conserving surgery. And at the four sites where the authors could estimate the effect of navigators on chemotherapy, patients with navigators were less likely to get recommended chemo.

    "We think patient navigation helps, but we don't know where it helps and how it helps," Ko said. "There are still a lot of questions."

    "Is (patient navigation) effective?" said biostatistician Donald Berry, from the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. "If you just had to look at this study, you'd say, 'I don't know.'"

    "But it can't be bad," added Berry. He was not involved in the new research.

    Patient navigators in this study were funded by grants, Ko noted. Typically either grants or hospitals themselves cover the cost of navigators.

    Dr. Michael Alvarado told Reuters Health he sees navigators help his low-income breast cancer patients at San Francisco's county hospital.

    "The navigators we have at San Francisco General are invaluable, an amazing resource for the patients," he said. "They're an objective bystander to help give information, to relay information, to get them to their next appointment. The patients love them."

    Alvarado is a surgeon at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center and was not involved in the current study.

    The number of options facing breast cancer patients and the amount of time and money needed to get appropriate care can be overwhelming, Alvarado said.

    "Having options is such a wonderful thing. But at the same time, patients are pulling their hair out. It's totally an information overload. They're searching for people to give them an answer, and it's complicated," he said.

    "In some of these situations, it can be daunting for patients to be in a clinic with doctors in white coats. To have a navigator as their friend, I think it gives them a lot of comfort. It makes a huge difference," Alvarado said.

    Some breast cancer treatments, such as radiation, require patients to make frequent visits to the hospital. The treatment exacts an especially heavy toll on mothers who must work to support their families, Ko said.

    "For some women, they feel very anxious about losing their job," she said. Navigators can help by informing patients about their employment rights and about disability payments, for example.

    Every day, five African-American women die of breast cancer because of a disparity in care, Ko noted.

    "With the right support and encouragement and the right team," she said, "I think we can do a lot for these patients."

    SOURCE: http://bit.ly/WN2SDs Journal of Clinical Oncology, online July 28, 2014.

  • Most kids will use shade if provided at outdoor sports camps: study

    By Kathryn Doyle

    NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Without any encouragement from coaches, more than two-thirds of kids at an outdoor soccer camp used nearby tents for shade during rest periods, a new study found.

    "Outdoor sports and being active are important for kids to be healthy globally, but we need to balance that with taking reasonable steps to prevent skin cancers," Dr. Ian A. Maher told Reuters Health.

    Maher worked on the pilot study at Saint Louis University in Missouri.

    Sunscreen, sun protective clothing and finding shade can all help reduce sun exposure, he said.

    "We wanted to know if we put money into these shade structures, would kids use them," Maher said.

    The researchers observed kids at a summer soccer camp in Richmond, Virginia over two weeks. Shade tents donated by Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center and the Sun Safe Soccer program of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery were placed within 10 yards of the field.

    Kids weren't told whether they should use the shade tents. They were given frequent five- to 10-minute rest periods during each session.

    On average, about 71 percent of kids used the shade tents during rest periods. During the first week, when the weather was sunnier, 98 percent of kids used the tents.

    Campers in their mid to late teens were less likely to use the tents than younger kids, according to findings published in JAMA Dermatology.

    "The results of this study suggest that if a culture of being 'sunsmart' is put in place that people will use it," said Dr. Robert S. Kirsner, chief of dermatology at the University of Miami Hospital in Florida. He was not part of the new study.

    The Florida Society of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery offers free shade structures to several schools in the state, and similar programs may be in place elsewhere, he told Reuters Health by email.

    The tents cost between $100 and $150 at sporting goods stores, Maher said. Currently, some parents provide the tents at games and there may be one or two available at a tournament.

    Ideally, he said, these tents will become a part of standard soccer team equipment, alongside balls and uniforms.

    "This is a fairly cheap, common sense step to reduce the amount of sun exposure," Maher said.

    He has had success with a program in Missouri in which local businesses pay for and sponsor the tents.

    Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S. and the deadliest forms are caused by exposure to ultraviolet light, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    "You get the majority of your sun exposure before 18 years of age, when you spend a lot more time outdoors than as an adult," Maher said.

    Soccer, especially, is a very exposed sport, he said. Baseball players wear caps and have dugouts for shade breaks and football players wear helmets, which offer some sun protection.

    "Soccer teams should develop a culture of being 'sunsmart' ranging from practicing and playing at off peak sun times, if possible, wearing sun protective clothing and applying and reapplying sunscreen, and if possible using shade," Kirsner said.

    "Coaches, parents, family members and other spectators are also at risk, and thus should also take efforts to reduce excessive sun exposure," he said.

    SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1eFUc6O JAMA Dermatology, online July 30, 2014.

  • Too few U.S. youth getting vaccine for sexually transmitted virus -CDC

    By David Beasley

    ATLANTA (Reuters) - More U.S. adolescents are receiving vaccines against the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical and other types of cancer but vaccination rates for the infection remain too low, federal health officials said on Thursday.

    In 2013, 37.6 percent of girls ages 13-17 got the recommended three doses of the vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

    That was up from 33.4 percent in 2012 but far short of the CDC's goal of an 80 percent vaccination rate, data showed.

    "It's frustrating to report almost the same HPV vaccination coverage levels among girls for another year," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, assistant surgeon general and director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

    The percentage of boys receiving all three doses of the vaccine more than doubled, increasing to 13.9 percent in 2013 from 6.8 percent in 2012, according to data from the CDC's National Immunization Survey of teens.

    Though the CDC recommends the HPV vaccine for all 11-year-old and 12-year-old boys and girls, the 2013 study found that doctors had not recommended it to one third of girls and more than half of boys.

    HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, with 79 million U.S. residents currently infected and 14 million new cases every year, according to the health agency.

    The virus can cause cervical, vaginal, penile anal and throat cancers. Each year, about 4,000 women in the United States die of cervical cancer, the CDC said.

    "Pre-teens need HPV vaccine today to be protected from HPV cancers tomorrow," Schuchat said.

    Parents cited a lack of knowledge about the vaccine and safety concerns as reasons for not having their children vaccinated, the CDC said.

    The vaccine is safe, the CDC said. About 67 million doses have been distributed since it became available in 2006 for girls and 2009 for boys and no serious safety concerns have been linked to HPV vaccination, the agency said.

    SOURCE: http://1.usa.gov/1rdFRT9 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, online July 24, 2014.