Dr Robert Carlson Discusses Future of Immuno-Oncology, Importance of Patient Advocacy

Immuno-oncology will be an important part of cancer care in the future, but probably not the only part, predicted Robert W. Carlson, MD, CEO of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. He also explained how patient advocacy and an enduring healthcare system are essential to the advancement of cancer care.

Transcript (slightly modified)
Are immune-based treatments the best option to cure cancer at this point?
Well, immunotherapy in oncology is an early field. It’s been studied for decades, but the real advances in it are relatively recent. I think time will tell us whether or not the immunotherapies are the answer. I’ve been in this business long enough to know what there have been “the answer to cancer” multiple times over the years, and some of those, in some situations that optimism was very well-founded. Rituximab, trastuzumab, endocrine therapies in breast cancer, and so forth.

But we’ll just have to wait and see whether the optimism that surrounds immuno-oncology today is actually actualized. My own suspicion is it will be an important part of cancer care in the future. It’s unlikely it will be the only part of cancer care in the future.

Which aspects of cancer care do you see making the most strides in 2017?

I think that the major issue in 2017 is a healthcare system surviving the transition in administrations from the Obama to the Trump administrations. That transition is going to be big. I mean, it’s already been stated that the Affordable Care Act will be repealed. Again, I’m not sure where we’re going to go in terms of replacing the Affordable Care Act, because I think it will have to be replaced rather than simply repealed and all the things thrown out. So I think the biggest stride we hopefully will make in 2017 is having a healthcare system that weathers that transition effectively and continues to improve during that transition.

What is the importance of the role of patient advocacy in cancer care?

Patient advocacy groups have a tremendously important role in cancer care. They are the patient voice. They can come together and we hear not only individual patient voices in that circumstance, but the collective patient voice. There are themes and messages that come out of that that I think are very, very important to us. The patient advocacy community is the most effective way of influencing public policy in a way that specifically benefits patients. So I think the patient advocacy voice is one that has to be listened to, it has to be heard. It’s the voice that is most effective and efficient in terms of actually helping us understand what patients really want and need.
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