As we honor Kidney Cancer awareness month, can you share what made you decide to care for patients with kidney cancer?
It has been an honor and a privilege to care for patients with kidney cancer. I truly value the opportunity to build longitudinal relationships with patients and their families, to help them understand their diagnosis and what it means, and to collaboratively design a treatment plan. As I have started a laboratory that focuses on kidney cancer, I have also had an opportunity to meet kidney cancer patient advocates from across the country, and to see firsthand the incredible patient community that exists. I feel very fortunate to be part of such a wonderful community focused on kidney cancer.
How do you collaborate with members of the Prostate & Urologic Cancers Program to care for patients?
I strongly believe that caring for kidney cancer patients requires a multidisciplinary effort, incorporating not just medical oncologists, but urologists, radiologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, advanced practice providers, nurses, and many others. The Prostate and Urologic Cancers Program provides a forum for us to interact and discuss patient care and research, with the goal of optimally treating the patients we see in clinic and also advancing the field to improve the standard of care in the future.
Can you explain why research into the mechanisms of response and resistance to immune therapy in kidney cancer is so important?
We know that immune therapy has been transformative for many patients with kidney cancer, and for some patients these treatments have led to extraordinary responses that keep the cancer at bay for years, or longer. However, while we know that such long-term disease control (or, in a few cases, even disease elimination) is possible, it still is far too rare. How do we improve on that? How do we change things so not just some but most (and one day, maybe all) kidney cancer patients will have such long term benefit? Doing so will require a deeper understanding of why immune therapy works so well for some patients (where the tumor “responds”), and why such therapy unfortunately fails to help other patients (where the tumor is “resistant”). My laboratory is focused on these exact questions – how can we learn from patients and their tumors why immune therapies do and do not work, and use that information to design new types of therapies.
Is there a piece of advice or support you try to extend to your patients and their families? Words of hope?
I think we are at an inflection point with kidney cancer. Even 10-15 years ago, the options for treating advanced (or “metastatic”) kidney cancer were fairly limited. Now, we see new treatments approved almost every year. Moreover, with immune therapies, there is likely a group of patients that gets extraordinary benefit (and potentially even cure) of their advanced kidney cancer. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that today, in 2022, it is still the minority of patients who have such long-term control of their advanced kidney cancer. I try to seek a balance and offer cautious optimism – I think it is important to acknowledge where treatments are today and to plan accordingly, and at the same time also hope that in the coming years research and treatments will continue to improve in a meaningful way.