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Innovation

The Future of Cancer Care Is Here

M. Sung Lee, MD, Kristina Capretti, RN, and Bruce McGibbon
The cancer care team includes M. Sung Lee, MD, medical director, Smilow Cancer Hospital Care Center in Greenwich; Kristina Capretti, RN, clinical program director, Smilow Greenwich; and Bruce McGibbon, MD, director, Radiation Oncology

Imagine a time when 95 percent of all cancers are curable and people with incurable cancers have access to treatments that allow them to live longer with a good quality of life. Sound far-fetched? Not to Eric Winer, MD, the new director of Yale Cancer Center and physician-in-chief of Smilow Cancer Network, who expects the nation will reach this milestone in a decade.

“We are going to be part of creating that future,” said Dr. Winer, who plans to elevate Yale Cancer Center and the Smilow enterprise by harnessing the academic and clinical resources of Yale School of Medicine and Yale New Haven Health, a premier health system. Dr. Winer’s vision includes strengthening the statewide network of Smilow Cancer Hospital Care Centers, such as the one in Greenwich, by providing patients with increased access to oncology subspecialists, state-of-the-art technologies and therapies, and clinical trials of novel treatments.

Dr. Winer advocates building teams consisting of scientists and clinicians to accelerate progress in cancer research and care. “What’s most exciting is that we can make a difference in the lives of people receiving care today and we can conduct research to make sure cancer care is better in the future,” said Dr. Winer, who was Dana Farber’s chief clinical development officer before joining Yale Cancer Center earlier this year.

Staying ahead of the curve

Greenwich Hospital has announced a proposed plan for a new Smilow Cancer Hospital Care Center to address the growing prevalence of cancer in the region. The center will expand care offerings and eliminate the need to travel long distances for treatments currently not offered in Greenwich. Patients will have access to advanced technology in radiation oncology suites and innovative therapies in patient-centered infusion spaces with direct access to a healing garden. The center will bring additional dedicated teams to the campus, complementing Greenwich and Yale New Haven Health’s existing team of nationally recognized oncology specialists.

The new offerings build on Greenwich Hospital’s existing cancer resources, including imaging, private oncology rooms and women’s cancer services.

“Greenwich Hospital is not satisfied with staying at the cutting edge of cancer care. We need to stay ahead of the curve by setting the standard for excellence to be modeled by others. The new cancer center will allow us to fortify our cancer care program as we continue to provide personalized care in a community setting. It is the best of both worlds,” said Barbara Ward, MD, medical director of the Breast Center at the Smilow Cancer Hospital Care Center in Greenwich and chief of Surgery at Greenwich Hospital.

A targeted, team approach

M. Sung Lee, MD, a Yale Cancer Center medical oncologist and medical director of the Smilow Cancer Hospital Care Center in Greenwich, believes the Smilow affiliation benefits patients as well as clinicians. “We are learning more and more about cancer every day and our range of treatment options for various cancers is expanding. That’s why it’s important to take a multidisciplinary approach to cancer care that brings together a team of medical, radiation and surgical oncologists to develop individualized care plans for each patient,” said Dr. Lee. “Having access to the best range of oncology treatments and the expert knowledge of my Yale colleagues greatly impacts patient care and outcomes for the better.”

Bruce McGibbon, MD, a Yale Medicine therapeutic radiologist who is medical director of Radiation Oncology at the Smilow Cancer Hospital Care Center in Greenwich, agreed. “Having clinical space for cancer specialists to see patients together and discuss complicated cases has become more important,” he said. “And we have seen that for complex cases, there is tremendous value in reaching out to our Smilow colleagues, many of whom are nationally and internationally recognized experts in their fields.”

In addition to advanced cancer care, Greenwich offers a wide range of holistic oncology-dedicated support services such as palliative care, survivorship care, counseling, nutrition guidance, social work and more, said Kristina Capretti, RN, clinical program director for Smilow Greenwich. “Our cohesive team ensures patients receive the best quality of care. We treat patients and their loved ones as if they were family. Patients know they are in good hands. Their care team is with them every step of the way.” 

Elisa O'Brien, APRN; Alyssa Gillego, MD; and Barbara Ward, MD
Elisa O'Brien, APRN; Alyssa Gillego, MD; and Barbara Ward, MD, medical director, Breast Center, provide comprehensive care.

A promising future

The prospect of bringing research findings and clinical trials to patients at Smilow’s network of care centers in Greenwich and throughout the state were among the factors that prompted Ian Krop, MD, PhD, to accept a position as chief clinical research officer, associate director for clinical research and director of the Yale Cancer Center Clinical Trials Office this year.

“I’m excited about expanding the impact of our clinical and research breakthroughs for our cancer patients and their families,” said Dr. Krop. “Our goal is to advance the field through clinical trials that define the next generation of therapies. Patients will take part in studies that will help move the field forward and provide people with better care now and into the future. No therapy or drug has ever gone from the laboratory to the patient without first being studied in a group of patients. That’s why clinical trials are absolutely key.”

Smilow’s network of Care Centers can also play a role in addressing health disparities by eliminating barriers that prevent people from seeking lifesaving cancer care.  Connecticut has the dubious distinction of having the highest per capita income and the second largest disparity in income among all 50 states. “Connecticut has very wealthy, educated and connected individuals along with pockets of lower-income people who are at great risk of receiving inadequate cancer care. We need to fix that,” said Dr. Wine. Smilow intends to use evidence-based approaches to reach underserved communities statewide.

Heather Studwell, MBA, OTR/L

With the increasing number of cancer survivors has come the need to enhance survivorship services to address the medical and psychosocial needs of patients, noted Heather Studwell, MBA, OTR/L, Oncology Survivorship coordinator and an occupational therapist. “Survivorship begins at the time of diagnosis,” said Studwell. “Cancer treatments are getting better, but in some instances they can cause late or long-term side effects. We can help patients to better handle side effects – or eliminate them completely – if they are addressed sooner rather than later.”

In addition to physical, occupational and speech therapists, the Survivorship team includes a physiatrist, dietitian, social worker and nurse coordinator to help patients navigate the process. The program also offers complementary therapies such as meditation, yoga and acupuncture.

“Our goal is to get patients back to feeling well, physically and emotionally,” Studwell said.