Since coming to West Virginia University last year, I’ve been traversing the state and have met a lot of wonderful people who are deeply invested in improving the health of West Virginians. Our cancer burden is a heavy one here. Geographic barriers impede access to care. Unhealthy lifestyles, including tobacco use and obesity, promote the development of cancer. Too many of us fail to take advantage of anti-cancer vaccines, such as Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which can prevent cervical and anal cancers.
We vigorously promote making cancer screening tests, like mammography and colonoscopy, more available because early detection vastly improves outcomes. We have work to do in cancer prevention, and last year we implemented a new mobile mammography bus. This year, we will unveil a lung cancer screening bus. As a part of that effort, we have implemented a training program for tobacco treatment specialists who can work to reduce tobacco use. Our workforce also must contend with occupational exposures, such as breathing coal dust, that increase our cancer rates. Educating at-risk individuals to optimize their workplace safety is a high priority.
We’re encouraged that our outcomes for cancer treatment in Morgantown are comparable to outcomes in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia and better than the national averages. As we strive to bring that same level of care to the rest of the state, we unveiled in 2017 plans for a major, $13.2 million expansion of the WVU Cancer Institute. Construction of two new floors of the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center will be completed in May 2018, and we will open our doors this summer to accommodate growing demand for our specialized cancer services.
We’re also adding cancer specialists — a total of 38 specialists by 2020. Among our outstanding new physicians is Ghulam Abbas, MD, recently appointed director of surgical thoracic oncology and chief of thoracic surgery at WVU Medicine. Dr. Abbas specializes in robotic lung surgery that permits smaller incisions and faster recovery while providing optimal cancer outcomes.
In 2017, we also welcomed our first radiation oncology resident because we know that physicians who train in West Virginia are more likely to practice here.
Every week, we have a program that we call Science Exchange Fridays, which provides an interactive forum to jumpstart partnerships between our physicians and scientists. Progress against cancer requires a dialogue between experts across the spectrum of science, and these forums provide a crucible for generating new ideas and research endeavors.
WVU’s Clinical Research Unit is introducing new opportunities for West Virginians to participate in cancer clinical trials whether they are cared for in Morgantown or by our other WVU cancer care providers, located in communities across the state. Our clinical researchers strive to bring cutting-edge research to WVU for our patients. For example, we were the first center in the US and one of only seven institutes worldwide to offer intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT) to treat glioblastoma, a lethal brain cancer. This technique allows the multidisciplinary team to treat the tumor bed during surgery after removal of the mass, protecting as much of the healthy brain as possible while targeting potential sites of residual tumor cells. WVU’s work in immuno-oncology is bringing our patients a more personalized treatment of their cancer and its genetic makeup. This summer, we expect to begin a specialized program of individualized immune treatment of lymphomas, known as Car-T therapy.
As we expand our network to places like Reynolds Memorial in Glen Dale and elevate the quality of care throughout the state, we are grateful for support from our fellow West Virginians, including generous donors to the Norma Mae Huggins Fund and other WVU Cancer Institute funds that are critical to furthering our mission. By engaging you, our community, in our work, we will make progress against cancer for ourselves, our loved ones, and our neighbors. We want to return people who develop cancer to health and restore their trajectory for long and productive lives. By working together, we can accelerate the pace of progress.
It’s good to know we’re all in this together as we continue the fight against cancer.
Richard M. Goldberg, MD
Director of the WVU Cancer Institute
Laurence S. and Jean J. DeLynn Chair of Oncology