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

  • Teen contraband cigarette use linked to other drugs

    By Kathryn Doyle

    (Reuters Health) - Compared to those who don't smoke illicit tobacco, kids who do are more likely to try other illegal drugs like cocaine, heroin and amphetamines, according to a recent Canadian study.

    The researchers used survey data from one point in time, so they can't say that smoking illegal cigarettes leads to drug use, only that the two often coincide and that's enough to warrant stronger tobacco control policies.

    "The concern for us is that contraband tobacco may be a gateway to other drugs, but we cannot infer causality," said coauthor Mesbah F. Sharaf of the economics department at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

    In Canada, unmarked and untaxed contraband cigarettes are either illegally manufactured domestically or illegally imported across the U.S. border, often from Native American reservations, the authors write in The Journal of Primary Prevention.

    They cite a national survey from 2007 that found 18 percent of all cigarettes used by teens who smoked daily were contraband.

    "Here in Canada the contraband market is really substantial, almost 30 percent of tobacco sales in the whole country," Sharaf told Reuters Health.

    For the new study, he and his coauthors used data from Canada's 2010-2011 Youth Smoking Survey, a school-based survey of kids in grades six through 12.

    It included questions about smoking unbranded or Native American-brand cigarettes over the previous twelve months as well as use of amphetamines, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and ketamine over the same period.

    Focusing on the answers from kids who smoked, the researchers found that 31 percent of them had used contraband cigarettes at least once in the previous year. And contraband cigarette smokers were more likely to report using other drugs than kids who only smoked legal cigarettes.

    Twenty percent of contraband cigarette users reported trying heroin, compared to three percent of non-contraband smokers. For hallucinogens, 46 percent of contraband smokers reported trying it, compared to 30 percent of non-contraband smokers.

    "The issue of illicit tobacco is a prominent problem worldwide," said Dr. Russ Callaghan, associate professor in the Northern Medical Program at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, who was not part of the new study.

    "In general, the way it is defined is any tobacco product that doesn't have the full set of taxes or levies applied to the purchase price," Callaghan told Reuters Health.

    Illicit tobacco is less of an issue for kids in the U.S., but it is contributing to a lot of youth smoking in Canada, and the tobacco products they get largely come across the border from upstate New York, he noted.

    The new study does show an association between contraband tobacco and illegal drugs, but it cannot say anything about causation, which is important, Callaghan noted.

    Sharaf cites a Royal Canadian Mounted Police drug bust in which contraband tobacco was found with other illicit drugs as evidence that kids may be getting their illegal cigarettes and other substances from the same source.

    "So it seems that this contraband market is managed by probably organized crimes and criminal gangs that may be using contraband as an avenue to other illicit drugs," Sharaf said. "Most likely it is the same source."

    But in interviews with teen smokers in Canada, Callaghan has not found that to be the case.

    "When I've asked young people about whether their sources of illicit cigarettes and illicit drugs are the same, they say no," he said.

    Some corner stores sell the cigarettes, which could be where young people purchase them, he noted.

    Although the authors suggest the "gateway hypothesis," wherein illegal tobacco leads to the use of other illegal drugs, "I don't think they are really warranted in inferring that at all," Callaghan said.

    "I think what's probably happening here is you have young people who may be marginalized, have low academic achievement, more deviance, and they engage in both of these activities," he said.

    In the past, some have argued that marijuana is a gateway drug to more dangerous substances, and that has been mostly disproved, Callaghan said.

    "It's not that I don't think that illicit drugs are a problem, but I'd be wary of that particular line of reasoning," he said. "There's a relation, but we need to be careful. I hope it's not alarmist."

    Linking contraband tobacco to further drug use could bring more attention to the problem, but policymakers may argue to lower taxes on legitimate cigarettes to reduce the contraband market, which would in turn lead to cheaper cigarettes and more smokers, Callaghan said.

    Earlier this year, Canadian criminal codes were amended to make trade, promotion or sales of contraband a criminal offense, which is a step in the right direction, Sharaf said.

    "This needs to be supplemented with creative government measures," he said.

    SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1zu7vlf The Journal of Primary Prevention, online November 1, 2014.

  • REFILE-Colorado awards $8 million to study medical marijuana uses

    (Corrects paragraph 7 to clarify that funding comes from patient registration fees, not taxes on medical marijuana sales)

    By Keith Coffman

    DENVER (Reuters) - Colorado health officials awarded $8 million in research grants on Wednesday to study the use of medical marijuana in the treatment of symptoms associated with Parkinson's disease, childhood epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Colorado was one of the first two U.S. states to legalize recreational pot use, and it is among 23 states and the District of Columbia that permit use of the drug for medicinal purposes.

    But weed remains illegal under federal law for any reason, leading to a dearth of funding for medical marijuana research, and meaning results are limited and largely anecdotal.

    Awarding eight grants for landmark peer-reviewed studies into an array of maladies, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said it sought to provide objective scientific research on the efficacy of medical marijuana.

    "The grant program ... should not be construed as encouraging tor sanctioning the social or recreational use of marijuana," the department said in a statement.

    Colorado lawmakers set up a Medical Marijuana Scientific Advisory Council last year and allocated $10 million to administer a program to conduct the studies. The council received some three dozen applications, from which it chose the eight approved by the department on Wednesday.

    Funding for the program is derived from registration fees paid by medical marijuana patients in the state.

    Six of the grants will go to the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, said university spokesman Mark Couch.

    Researchers there will study whether marijuana in its various forms can alleviate the tremors associated with Parkinson's and whether it can provide relief for children with brain tumors or pediatric epilepsy.

    Other projects will research using marijuana to treat irritable bowel syndrome in adolescents and young adults, and how cannabis compares with the pain medication Oxycodone.

    Teams at the University of Pennsylvania will conduct two separate studies on whether cannabis is effective in treating patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, including combat veterans.

    "It's true that little research has been done due to federal restrictions. I think that will change as more states are legalizing," said Brian Smith, a spokesman for the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which oversees legalized recreational cannabis there.

    Voters in Oregon and Alaska cast ballots in November to join Colorado and Washington in legalizing recreational pot use.

  • Heart experts warn of air pollution dangers

    By Janice Neumann

    (Reuters Health) - Air pollution should be one of the avoidable heart risk factors - just like smoking and excess fat - that doctors warn patients to steer clear of, according to a new statement from 20 heart experts.

    Citing pollution's heavy toll on cardiovascular health, the panel urges people to take steps to protect themselves from breathing heavy traffic fumes or industrial air pollution whenever possible, and public officials to pass laws to reduce air pollution.

    "Cardiovascular disease is a huge global problem, causing immense suffering and premature death, as well as placing severe strain on national healthcare budgets and/or family finances," said Dr. Robert Storey, a professor of cardiology at the University of Sheffield in the UK and senior author of the new position paper.

    Air pollution causes more than 3 million deaths worldwide each year and causes 3.1 percent of all cases of disability, Storey and his coauthors write in the European Heart Journal.

    Air pollution is also ninth most important on a list of modifiable heart-disease risk factors - ranking above low physical activity, high-salt diet, high cholesterol and drug use, the authors point out.

    Although gaseous air pollutants can be dangerous too, Storey said, airborne particles are the biggest contributor to cardiovascular disease because they cause inflammation of the lungs and enter the circulation, inflaming blood vessels, provoking clots and causing heart rhythm disturbances.

    Particulate matter includes coarse particles from road dust, construction work and industrial emissions and fine particles from traffic, power plants and industrial and residential burning of oil, coal or wood for heating.

    The bulk of particulate air pollution is made up of these fine particles, known as PM2.5, that are less than 2.5 micrometers - about one fifth the size of visible dust.

    The World Health Organization sets the safe outdoor exposure limit for PM2.5 at an average of 25 micrograms, or 25 millionths of a gram, per cubic meter of air over a 24-hour period, or average annual levels of 10 micrograms per cubic meter. In 2013, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lowered the 24-hour exposure limit to an average of 12 micrograms.

    European studies have found that PM2.5 levels are often markedly higher near heavy traffic zones compared to elsewhere in the same city, and that the levels can more than double during rush hours, according to the position statement.

    Some of the authors' advice for people to protect themselves is as simple as walking, cycling and using public transportation instead of driving cars, and exercising in parks or gardens, rather than near busy roads.

    And everyone should avoid being outside when pollution is highest, though this is especially important for infants, elderly and people with heart problems, the authors say.

    People who live in heavily polluted areas should also consider ventilation systems with filtration in their homes, since a large portion of outdoor pollution can penetrate buildings.

    The use of fossil fuels for heating and energy should also be decreased, according to the statement.

    "Many countries have made good progress towards reducing risk factors such as smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure but much less effort has been extended on reducing exposure to air pollution," Storey said in an email to Reuters Health.

    Studies have shown even short-term exposure to high PM2.5 levels increases deaths from heart disease and respiratory disease, and that people living in places with high PM2.5 have an 11 percent greater risk of dying from heart attacks, strokes and heart failure than those who live in cleaner areas.

    Dr. Robert Brook, a cardiologist at the University of Michigan Health System and another author of the policy statement, said many people don't realize the dangerous effects of air pollution on the heart.

    "While most people can readily observe and believe that air pollution may cause lung diseases, it is in fact cardiovascular diseases that are the largest adverse health effect of fine particulate matter exposure," Brook said in an email.

    Dr. Alan Abelsohn of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto in Canada, called the statement an important reminder. Too few cardiologists and primary care doctors advise their patients of pollution's risks, he said.

    "It's a very important and neglected area of prevention," he said.

    Abelsohn, who was not involved in the position statement, noted that national-level guidelines on allowable amounts of pollution can only do so much. He said individuals should always pay attention to the local Air Quality Index, which rates the level of air pollution according to health risk, and reduce their exposure accordingly.

    Brook said that while the U.S. has made great strides reducing air pollution since the 1970s or even 2000, the efforts should continue.

    "What we should not do is lessen our regulations and pose a threat to the cardiovascular health of the nation in the name of expediency or supposed economic growth or stimulus," Brook said.

    SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1zt1Iw6 European Heart Journal, online December 9, 2014.

  • Global population living six years longer than in 1990 - study

    By Kate Kelland

    LONDON (Reuters) - Global life expectancy has risen by more than six years since 1990 thanks to falling death rates from cancer and heart disease in rich countries and better survival in poor countries from diarrhea, tuberculosis and malaria.

    In an analysis from the 2013 Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study, health researchers said, however, that while life expectancy is rising almost everywhere in the world, one notable exception is southern sub-Saharan Africa, where deaths from HIV/AIDS have erased some five years of life expectancy since 1990.

    "The progress we are seeing against a variety of illnesses and injuries is good - even remarkable - but we can and must do even better," said Christopher Murray, a professor of global health at the University of Washington in the United States, who led the study. It was published in The Lancet medical journal.

    Murray said a huge increase in collective action and funding given to potentially deadly infectious diseases such as diarrhea, measles, tuberculosis, HIV and malaria has had a real impact, reducing death rates and extending life expectancy.

    But he said some major chronic diseases have been neglected and are rising in importance as threats to life, particularly drug disorders, liver cirrhosis, diabetes and kidney disease.

    The GBD 2013 gives the most comprehensive and up-to-date estimates of the number of yearly deaths from 240 different causes in 188 countries over 23 years - from 1990 to 2013.

    Murray's team's latest analysis found some poorer countries have made exceptional gains in life expectancy over that time period, with people in Nepal, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Niger, Maldives, East Timor and Iran now living on average 12 years longer.

    Yet despite dramatic drops in child deaths over the last 23 years, malaria, diarrhea and respiratory infections such as pneumonia are still in the top five global causes of death in children under five, killing almost two million children between the ages of one month and 59 months every year.

    Another mixed success is that, while worldwide deaths from HIV/AIDS have fallen every year since their peak in 2005, HIV/AIDS is still the greatest cause of premature death in 20 out of 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

    SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1wkC4J4 The Lancet, online December 17, 2014.

  • REFILE-Colorado awards $8 million to study medical marijuana uses

    (Corrects paragraph 7 to clarify that funding comes from patient registration fees, not taxes on medical marijuana sales)

    By Keith Coffman

    DENVER (Reuters) - Colorado health officials awarded $8 million in research grants on Wednesday to study the use of medical marijuana in the treatment of symptoms associated with Parkinson's disease, childhood epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Colorado was one of the first two U.S. states to legalize recreational pot use, and it is among 23 states and the District of Columbia that permit use of the drug for medicinal purposes.

    But weed remains illegal under federal law for any reason, leading to a dearth of funding for medical marijuana research, and meaning results are limited and largely anecdotal.

    Awarding eight grants for landmark peer-reviewed studies into an array of maladies, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said it sought to provide objective scientific research on the efficacy of medical marijuana.

    "The grant program ... should not be construed as encouraging tor sanctioning the social or recreational use of marijuana," the department said in a statement.

    Colorado lawmakers set up a Medical Marijuana Scientific Advisory Council last year and allocated $10 million to administer a program to conduct the studies. The council received some three dozen applications, from which it chose the eight approved by the department on Wednesday.

    Funding for the program is derived from registration fees paid by medical marijuana patients in the state.

    Six of the grants will go to the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, said university spokesman Mark Couch.

    Researchers there will study whether marijuana in its various forms can alleviate the tremors associated with Parkinson's and whether it can provide relief for children with brain tumors or pediatric epilepsy.

    Other projects will research using marijuana to treat irritable bowel syndrome in adolescents and young adults, and how cannabis compares with the pain medication Oxycodone.

    Teams at the University of Pennsylvania will conduct two separate studies on whether cannabis is effective in treating patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, including combat veterans.

    "It's true that little research has been done due to federal restrictions. I think that will change as more states are legalizing," said Brian Smith, a spokesman for the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which oversees legalized recreational cannabis there.

    Voters in Oregon and Alaska cast ballots in November to join Colorado and Washington in legalizing recreational pot use.