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

  • TV adaptation of Ebola best-seller 'The Hot Zone' in the works

    By Reuters Staff

    LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Fox's television studio has been developing an adaptation of the best-selling 1994 Ebola chronicle "The Hot Zone" for more than a year, the Twenty-First Century Fox Inc-owned company said on Friday.

    "It's a strange and upsetting coincidence that we all happen to be experiencing this current scare, and we're of course extremely sensitive about it," Executive Producer Lynda Obst, who is developing the project with Fox TV Studios and "Alien" director Ridley Scott's Scott Free Productions, said in a statement.

    "While we are far from a finished product that, regardless, would never air during this current news cycle, I do think Preston's take is illuminating, particularly with some distance," Obst said.

    If the adaptation of Richard Preston's non-fiction thriller about viral hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola makes it into production, it will likely be as a limited-run series, Fox TV Studios said. The book describes the discovery of a virus related to Ebola in a primate quarantine facility in Reston, Virginia in 1989.

    The current Ebola outbreak has killed more than 4,500 people since March, mostly in the three impoverished West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organization.

    Fears that the outbreak would spread outside of that region have grown since a nurse in Spain became infected, a Liberian man died Oct. 8 in Dallas, Texas and two of the nurses who treated him were also diagnosed with the illness.

    A series developed by Fox's TV studio also does not guarantee that it would be broadcast on one of its parent company's networks in the United States as it could be sold to another network. Preston's book has become one of the best-selling books on online retailer Amazon two decades after its initial release.

  • Diet may influence ovarian cancer survival

    By Kathryn Doyle

    NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Women with healthier diets before an ovarian cancer diagnosis are less likely to die in the years following the cancer than women with poorer diets, according to a new study.

    The exceptions were women with diabetes or a high waist circumference, which is often linked to diabetes.

    A healthy diet before diagnosis may indicate a stronger immune system and, indirectly, the capacity to respond favorably to cancer therapy, said lead author Cynthia A. Thomson of Health Promotion Sciences at the Canyon Ranch Center for Prevention and Health Promotion at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

    "It also may reflect our capacity to sustain healthy eating after diagnosis, which in turn could support better health in a broader sense," Thomson told Reuters Health by email.

    Researchers looked back at 636 cases of ovarian cancer occurring between 1993 and 1998, 90 percent of which were invasive cancers.

    The women had filled out dietary and physical activity questionnaires at least one year before their cancer diagnoses as part of the larger Women's Health Initiative study. Researchers measured their heights, weights and waist circumferences.

    The healthy eating index in this study measured 10 dietary components, scoring diets with a higher amount of vegetables and fruit, more variety in vegetables and fruit, more whole grains, lower amounts of fat and alcohol and more fiber as healthier than other diets.

    On average, the women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer around age 63.

    As of September 17, 2012, 354 of the women had died, and 305 of those died specifically from ovarian cancer.

    When the researchers divided the women into three groups based on their diet quality, those in the healthiest-eating group were 27 percent less likely to die of any cause after ovarian cancer diagnosis than those in the poorest diet group, according to the results published in JNCI, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

    There was a similar but slightly weaker association between pre-diagnosis diet and death due specifically to ovarian cancer.

    "The index gives more points for eating good foods, such as vegetables and whole grains, and fewer points for eating not-recommended foods, such as added sugars, fatty foods and refined grains," said Dr. Elisa V. Bandera, associate professor of Epidemiology at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey in New Brunswick.

    "Interestingly, they found that it was not the individual components that affected mortality, but an overall healthy diet," said Bandera, who was not part of the new study.

    A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains may lower inflammation, which has been linked to ovarian cancer mortality, she told Reuters Heath by email.

    "Such a diet has also been linked to reduced risk of other chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease which may complicate ovarian cancer treatment and increase mortality," she said.

    High scores on the Healthy Eating Index are very similar to guidelines and recommendations for cancer survivors provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the American Cancer Society, Dr. Anne McTiernan of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle told Reuters Health by email.

    "However, the data on diet and lifestyle associations with ovarian cancer survival are all observational," said McTiernan, who was not involved in the new study. "Clear recommendations would require a randomized controlled clinical trial - the gold standard of medical evidence - before women with ovarian cancer could be advised to change their lifestyles in order to improve their prognosis."

    Women with a history of diabetes and those with a waist circumference greater than 34 inches did not seem to get the same survival benefit from a healthy diet as other women. In their report, the study authors note that past research has already linked diabetes with higher-than-average mortality in ovarian cancer.

    The amount of regular exercise women got before diagnosis did not seem to affect the link between diet quality and survival.

    Although the researchers accounted for exercise and total calorie intake, they did not account for ovarian cancer treatment. Women who had healthier diets may also have had access to better treatment, Bandera noted.

    In any case, Thomson said, healthy diets do seem to be important to reduce cancer risk and to improve survival after cancer. "One in two U.S. adults will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetime and eating healthy is important in regards to how we come through this experience."

    Healthy behaviors may also delay the onset of cancer, for example from age 55 to 65, but that is difficult to demonstrate, she said.

    SOURCE: http://bit.ly/VFCL0c JNCI, online October 16, 2014.

  • Freezing women's eggs not risk-free or foolproof-UK fertility expert

    By Kieran Guilbert

    LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Freezing a woman's eggs is neither risk-free nor foolproof, a British fertility expert said on Thursday, after Apple and Facebook said they would contribute to the cost of the procedure for female employees.

    Raising the issue of companies' reasons for helping female employees meet the cost of freezing their eggs, Dr Jane Stewart, secretary of the British Fertility Society, said such payments were "not a positive move for women, their rights or their careers."

    Women should be given the opportunity to have a baby at the right time for them, rather than when it is "convenient for the company," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    "It's an interesting proposal, but I'm not sure what it will achieve as women will still need time off when they are pregnant," Stewart said in a phone interview.

    "Why not just give women maternity leave and pay, and support them to come back on an equal footing after they've had their baby?"

    "Although egg freezing is now considered a clinically effective measure, that doesn't mean it's risk-free or foolproof, and it certainly doesn't guarantee a baby," she said.

    Apple has said that from January 2015 it will pay up to $20,000 for both full- and part-time female employees to freeze and store their eggs.

    NBC News reported on Tuesday that Facebook recently began covering the cost of egg-freezing for non-medical reasons, making it one of the first major employers in the technology sector to do so.

    A Facebook spokeswoman confirmed that the company had rolled out the benefit in January in response to requests from employees, among other reasons.

    In a report published in October 2012, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) said that egg freezing was an exciting and improving technology, and should no longer be considered experimental.

    However, ASRM said it could not endorse the widespread use of the practice, and said it may not be appropriate for older women who desire to postpone reproduction.

    Egg freezing is an expensive but increasingly popular option for women, enabling them to delay child bearing. The procedure is also used by women who have to undergo medical treatments that interfere with fertility, such as cancer treatment.

    The procedure typically costs up to $10,000, with an additional $500 a year for storage.

    The British Fertility Society represents professionals practicing in the field of reproductive medicine.

  • Last-resort leukemia treatment produces dramatic remission rate

    By Gene Emery

    NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Ninety percent of people facing death because conventional treatments had failed to destroy their leukemia have responded to an experimental therapy that trains their cells to kill out-of-control blood cells, doctors in Philadelphia report.

    Twenty seven of the 25 children and 5 adults initially responded to the new therapy. Nineteen - including a 9-year-old treated two and a half years ago - have remained cancer-free and 15 of those 19 have not receive any subsequent therapy.

    "We're astonished how well it turned out," senior author Dr. Stephan Grupp of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia told Reuters Health. Doctors are often happy if a treatment can improve the remission rate by 3 percent to 5 percent. "In our wildest dreams, we didn't think it would work as well as it did for the patients we've treated so far," Grupp said.

    "It's equally impressive in both the adult and pediatric population," said Dr. Noelle Frey of the University of Pennsylvania, who directed the adult portion of the study.

    "These are patients where the chances of cure are close to zero, if not zero," she said. "This is a therapy that not only gives hope, but is also correlated with tremendous success."

    The treatment results, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, are part of a broader effort to reprogram the cells of cancer patients so they reproduce rapidly and attack the rogue cells responsible for tumors.

    "If this has curative potential - which we don't know yet, but seems to be the case - it's a game changer," said Dr. Michael Sadelain of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, part of a separate team that previously used the technique to produce complete remissions in 14 out of 16 adults who had acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) of a stage "where nobody would go into complete remission."

    "The good news is, this therapy can work just as well in children as it was reported to do in adults," he told Reuters Health.

    In the Philadelphia study, other treatments - as many as four - had failed in the 30 patients. Conventional therapy typically cures 80 percent to 85 percent of children with ALL and those children "don't need this," said Grupp. "The other 15 percent or so are candidates for this."

    Adults with ALL are tougher to treat, "so 50 percent or more might need this," he said.

    In July, the the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave the treatment, known as CTL019, a Breakthrough Therapy designation designed to expedite its development for ALL.

    The Philadelphia researchers have also been experimenting with CTL019 for chronic lymphocytic leukemia and Hodgkin's lymphoma,. The remission rates in those tests have been high, but not nearly as high as with ALL, Frey told Reuters Health. Those findings have not been published.

    The ALL treatment involves training disease-fighting blood cells known as T-cells. Once removed from a patient's body, they are programmed to hunt cancer cells that have a telltale protein on their surface. The specially-trained cells are then re-injected into the patient. The re-engineering process currently costs about $25,000.

    Of the initial 30 patients, 27 were in complete remission by the one-month mark, but seven relapsed over a period ranging from 6 weeks to 8.5 months after treatment. Twenty three were alive at the six-month mark. Five of the 23 left the study to receive other treatments, including stem cell transplantation.

    The treatment is not without serious risks. The most common is cytokine release syndrome, where the body appears to react to the mass killing of tumor cells.

    Patients "become tired, achy and nauseous," said Frey. "You can also get low blood pressure and breathing difficulties. Unfortunately, it can be life-threatening. But we have, in most cases, been able to reverse it. Yet in most situations it's very manageable."

    "For our patients who have already relapsed after stem cell transplants, or don't have any options for donors," she said, "this option has provided new hope."

    In eight of the 27 cases where there was a response, cytokine release syndrome was judged to be severe and the patients ended up in intensive care.

    At least part of the technique involved in the Philadelphia study has been licensed to Novartis. Sloan Kettering has teamed up with a start-up company, Juno Therapeutics, which will conduct a multicenter study of adults with ALL, Sadelain said.

    "That's a sea change in the field because, until now, this realm of cell therapy was almost exclusively in the hands of academic centers," he said. "Now you see a whole host of companies moving into this space. Investors have been impressed by these results and will take them far beyond what academic centers will do."

    SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1syxUeI New England Journal of Medicine, October 15, 2014.

  • U.S. court rebuffs Marine Corps families in polluted water case

    By Pamela MacLean

    (Reuters) - In a defeat for families claiming they were sickened by groundwater contamination many years ago at a U.S. Marine Corps base in North Carolina, a federal appeals court has rejected an attempt by the state's legislature to extend a time limit for filing pollution-related lawsuits.

    As a result, families involved in 10 lawsuits will be unlikely to collect damages for alleged injuries suffered at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, although a lawyer for the plaintiffs said they were considering further appellate options.

    Families of Marine Corps and Navy personnel stationed at Camp Lejeune over a period of 31 years, ending in 1987, had higher cancer rates than Marines and sailors in other bases without groundwater contamination, according to the plaintiffs.

    Water pollution at the camp was allegedly linked to illnesses more than a decade after the Marine Corps halted its alleged polluting at the sprawling base on the Atlantic Coast.

    Lawsuits were filed and 10 of them were consolidated in 2011 in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Georgia.

    The federal government tried to have the families' cases dismissed, arguing that North Carolina's 10-year limit on filing lawsuits, known as a statute of repose, barred the actions, which were filed long after the alleged contamination occurred.

    The Georgia judge rejected the federal government's argument, saying that the U.S. Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) preempted the North Carolina time limit. The government appealed.

    In the interim, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June, in an unrelated case, that CERCLA did not preempt the North Carolina law. Then, in an attempt to help the families, North Carolina state lawmakers tried to circumvent the Supreme Court ruling by voting in August to allow such lawsuits to be brought retroactively, beyond the 10-year limit, under state law.

    But in a ruling on Tuesday, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court said the state's statutory time limit was not preempted by CERCLA.

    A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice declined to comment on the ruling.

    The federal circuit ruled the state lawmakers' action in August was a new law, not a clarification of existing law, and so could not be applied retroactively to latent diseases that may be undiagnosed for years past the state's 10-year limit.

    "We contend that when the ten-year period began to run is still in dispute and that the cases should not simply be dismissed," said John Korzen, a Wake Forest University law professor representing the families.

    Under the state's statute of repose, a 10-year clock starts when the final instance of pollution occurs or when a property is sold. After that period, no lawsuits may be filed.

    In 2012, President Barack Obama signed a bill offering some of the Camp Lejeune families government-funded medical care.

    The case is Bryant v. United States, 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 12-15424.