Ensuring Our Youngest Cancer Patients Receive State-of-the-art Care Close to Home

By Douglas Scothorn, MD, and Ginna Priola, MD

Mission Children's Hospital cancer clinical trials Asheville, NC

In most people’s lives, September represents the changing of the leaves, pumpkin spice lattes and yellow school buses picking up excited kids returning to school. However, for our families at Mission Children’s Hospital, it’s a month to recognize the courageous battles being fought by their children. September is Childhood Cancer and Sickle Cell Awareness Month.

Roughly 15,600 children are diagnosed with cancer every year (that’s 43 children per day) and 1 out of every 9 will lose their battle. As in adults, childhood cancer does not discriminate: diagnoses cross all ethnic groups, socioeconomic classes and geographic regions. Cancer remains one of the leading causes of death in children. Currently, we have 429,000 childhood cancer survivors in the US, of which 95 percent will have at least one significant health related-issues due to their original diagnosis or their treatment.

Over the past 40 years, the survival rates for childhood cancer have increased from less than 60 percent to almost 85 percent. In large part, this is a result of research and clinical trials run by the Children’s Oncology Group (COG). COG is made up of over 200 hospitals that treat children and adolescents with cancer in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. These hospitals work together to develop treatment approaches for all types of childhood cancer. This ensures that children can receive the same state-of-the-art cancer treatment, regardless of where they live. Mission Children’s Hospital has been a member of the COG for almost 25 years.

Since 1980, only three drugs have been approved to treat children with cancer, and four drugs have been approved for use in both adults and children. Many childhood cancer treatments haven’t changed since the 1970s. On average, the five-year survival has improved from about 50 percent in 1975 to greater than 80 percent in 2010. However, there is still a long way to go. Although there are numerous nonprofits focused on providing funding for childhood cancer research, the National Cancer Institute currently only designates 4 percent of its annual budget toward childhood cancer research.

Clinical trials for childhood cancer typically compare the current best known treatments (called the “Standard of Care”) with treatments that are hoped to be more effective and/or have fewer side effects than the standard of care treatments (known as the “Experimental Treatment”). After each clinical trial, the treatment with the best outcomes becomes the new standard of care.

As of September 2019, Mission Children’s Hospital has over 60 active clinical trials designed to treat more than 90 percent of children with cancer. This means that children in western North Carolina can be assured of receiving the best available treatment for their cancer without having to leave their friends, family or community.

Here at Mission Children’s Hospital, in our pediatric hematology/oncology clinic housed in the SECU Cancer Center, we diagnose about 20 new patients a year in western North Carolina and continue to care for them throughout their diagnosis and for many years following.

As staff and providers at Mission Children’s Hospital, we understand the tremendous opportunity and responsibility we harbor to help these kids and their families … FIGHT LIKE A KID.

To learn more about the specialty services at Mission Children’s Hospital, visit missionchildrens.org.

Douglas Scothorn, MD, is a pediatric oncologist at Mission Children’s Hospital.

Ginna Priola, MD, is a pediatric oncologist at Mission Children’s Hospital.

Bon Secours Richmond Offers Local Breast Cancer Patients Access to Clinical Trials

Finding a cure for cancer begins with a clinical trial.  SCOR member site Bon Secours in Richmond, VA is proud not only to offer patients access to national trials that are unavailable at other area hospitals but also to offer a full range of opportunities for patients who are seeking new ways to treat their cancer.  Dr. William Irvin is Director of Medical Oncology and Clinical Research for the Bon Secours Cancer Institute.  In this video, he discusses the team of specialists in all disciplines from oncologists and nurses to physical therapists and financial counselors who work with patients, as well as the wide variety of clinical trials in which breast cancer patients can enroll.

Clinical trials are not for everyone, and we recommend discussing the pros and cons with your oncologist. Because they are used to determine the safety and effectiveness of medications, devices and treatment regimens, there can be risks involved. However, many times research leads to breakthrough medical advances that can not only help you, but even change the course of treatment for generations to come.

Richard Joins FirstHealth Cancer Care

Richard joins FirstHealth cancer care pinehurst, NCPinehurst, NC — Retired Col. Thomas J. Richard, M.D., has joined the system’s cancer care team as a Pinehurst Medical Clinic medical oncologist in Pinehurst.

As a young man, Richard thought a career in the financial world would suit him, so he earned an undergraduate degree from the prestigious University of Pennsylvania in economics with concentrations in finance and accounting. However, a volunteer experience proved otherwise.

“After college, I volunteered at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in their bone marrow transplant ward,” Richard said. “This experience solidified my interest and guided me toward medicine, so I pursued the required premed courses at night.”

That chance volunteer experience bodes well for patients in the FirstHealth of the Carolinas service area.

Richard’s premed courses at night progressed to a medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and an internal medicine internship and residency at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

“During my residency, I was drawn to the unique relationships between health care providers and their oncology patients,” Richard said, who subsequently completed fellowship training in hematology and oncology at Brooke Army Medical Center and Wilford Hall Medical Center.

Richard comes to Pinehurst Medical Clinic and the FirstHealth cancer care team from Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg where he served as chief of hematology – oncology service. He also served in a similar position at San Antonio Military Medical Center. Additional military roles include officer-in-charge at the NATO Role 2E Hospital at NKAIA and 31st Combat Support Hospital in Afghanistan, as well as internist at the 28th and 86th Combat Support Hospitals in Iraq. Military honors include the Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal and Best Senior Resident Teacher, among a host of others. He is board certified in oncology, hematology and internal medicine.

Richard joins Pinehurst Medical Clinic’s oncologists, including doctors, Michael Batalo, Charles Kuzma, Todd Moore, Robert Pohlmeyer and Ellen Willard. He also joins an expanding cancer care team at FirstHealth with additional oncologists, a physician assistant, nurse practitioners, oncology nurse navigators and clinical trials professionals. Richard will be a member of Pinehurst Medical Clinic and serve patients at the FirstHealth Outpatient Cancer Center in Pinehurst.

“We are honored that Dr. Richard chose to join our cancer team, as he brings a wide array of experiences and training that will serve our patients well,” said Dan Barnes, D.O., president of the FirstHealth Physician Group. “The addition of another specialist in hematology and oncology allows patients in the Sandhills to receive world-class care in their own community, close to home.”

Matt Sherer, administrative director of oncology and clinical trials at FirstHealth, added, “Dr. Richard is joining an exceptional team of cancer specialists, further solidifying FirstHealth’s position as a regional leader in cancer care.”

Richard was drawn to FirstHealth’s “great reputation as a top-notch organization,” he said. “I was impressed by the efficiency of operations and the emphasis on providing high quality patient care. I look forward to developing relationships with my patients and their families.”

Richard and his wife Meredith, a second grade teaching assistant at Saint John Paul II Catholic School, are the parents of five children: Matthew, a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Alison, a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill; Daniel, a junior at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics; Lillian, a sophomore at Union Pines High School and Joseph, a sixth grader at Saint John Paul II.

The Anson Record, September 28, 2019

FirstHealth Makes History as “First in the World” Ion Robotic Bronchoscopy Site


PINEHURST – FirstHealth of the Carolinas has made history once again as the “first in the world” Ion Robotic Bronchoscopy mentor site.

Michael Pritchett, D.O., MPH, pulmonary specialist at Pinehurst Medical Clinic and director of the Chest Center of the Carolinas at FirstHealth, will lead the training center.

In April, FirstHealth became the first health care system in the nation to participate in a clinical study with Intuitive Surgical’s Ion Endoluminal System.  Dr. Pritchett performed the procedure with the robotic system as part of a multi-center clinical study. Other sites participating in the trial include Massachusetts General Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Mayo Clinic and Henry Ford Health System.

Dr. Pritchett will now work with physicians from around the world to train them in using this latest technology.

Intuitive Surgical’s robotic-assisted, catheter-based technology is designed to access hard-to-reach areas of the body through natural openings, like the mouth. When applied in the lungs, its aim is to enable early lung cancer diagnoses by accessing and sampling tissue from small nodules in difficult-to-reach areas. >>read more



Treating Prostate Cancer Close to Home

Jerome is a cancer survivor who was treated at an NCORP site in New Orleans, LAJerome combines two passions, sports and cooking, when he makes gumbo for his buddies to enjoy as they watch their home team, the New Orleans Saints, play football. When he learned in 2018 that he had advanced prostate cancer, Jerome thought he might have to travel 350 miles for treatment at an NCI-Designated Cancer Center. He worried about missing work days, cooking on game days, and his friends.

However, he learned of an opportunity to join a phase 3 NCI-supported clinical trial offered locally through LSU Health New Orleans’s Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, an NCI Community Oncology Research Program community site. The trial provides standard therapy for all enrollees, with two arms of the study also testing the efficacy of additional radiotherapy or surgery.

Jerome hesitated to enroll initially. Like many people with cancer, he had concerns about participating in an experimental study. After discussing his concerns with his doctor, Jerome decided to join the trial and was treated with hormone, radiation, chemotherapy, and, in early 2019, surgery to remove his prostate. A few months after a follow-up visit with his doctor, he was ecstatic to hear there was no evidence of disease remaining.

During treatment, Jerome has been traveling only 20 minutes from his house to his doctors. It was a big relief not having to take off work for an unknown time and go a long distance for treatment. “NCORP offered everything I needed,” he smiles, “here in my backyard.”

(From www.cancer.gov)