Facing a life-threatening ailment is a challenge for anyone, and travel arrangements often add an unnecessary layer to the stress.
Medical Oncologist Gautam Jha, MD, is very familiar with the difficulties confronting his patients during cancer treatment, including—in some cases—limited access to nearby treatments and specialists.
A member of University of Minnesota Health Cancer Care, Jha specializes in genitourinary cancers involving the kidney, bladder, prostate and testes. To bring advanced treatments and leading-edge clinical trials closer to where his patients live and work, Jha recently expanded his practice to University of Minnesota Health Maple Grove Clinics and Fairview Ridges Specialty Care Center.
Jha recently took time to discuss his interest in cancer care—and how patients are benefiting from his expanded services.
Why are you passionate about cancer care?
Unlike many other health conditions, cancer has a profound effect on the patient and their family. Most patients have a very little understanding of the disease or the treatment therapies. The initial education often comes from ill-informed friends or family or from online sources, which can be rife with inaccurate information. Of all diseases, cancer needs a lot of compassion, understanding, research and development; I felt I could make a difference.
What drew you to the treatment of genitourinary cancers in particular?
During my training in medical oncology, I realized that there was only a single approved medication treatment available at the time for progressed forms of prostate cancer, despite the fact that the disease is the most commonly diagnosed cancer for men. Bladder cancer was plagued by a similar lack of progress, again despite the fact that it is the sixth most common cancer among men. I felt we had a lot of work to do to improve our treatments for both these cancers.
Why is it important to have the community clinic locations available to patients?
By having five University of Minnesota Health Cancer Care Clinics located in communities around the Twin Cities, we’re able to bring our advanced cancer therapies and treatments out to our patients; we can meet them where they are, instead of them having to come to us.
How has care for genitourinary cancers changed in the past 10 years?
We have seen huge changes in how we manage kidney and prostate cancers. Roughly a decade ago, treatment for kidney cancer involved a type of therapy called cytokines, which is difficult for the care team to administer and for the patient to tolerate. Over the past decade, eight new targeted agents and newer, more sophisticated immunotherapy have all been approved for kidney cancer. There are many more agents and vaccines in development for kidney cancer.
Similarly, prostate cancer, which had barely seen any development until 2010, has five new approved therapies ranging from immunotherapy, hormonal therapy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I believe immunotherapy, which harnesses the power of the immune system to fight cancer, holds the most promise for future cancer therapy. I have devoted a significant amount of my own research to this area. I feel with our improved understanding of the immune system, we are just beginning to realize the potential of this treatment technique.
What is your mission with each patient?My mission is to provide all patients with individualized, innovative and compassionate care based on advances in technology and research. Care for advanced cancer patients should not focus on the application of more and more therapies. Instead, we should optimize the best therapies to achieve a longer and fuller life. I also believe it’s important to maintain close contact with the patient’s primary care doctor to ensure that the patient receives great care and to maintain clear and regular communication regarding their condition and available options.