‘Cancer Science’ Series Helps Community Understand Cancer Risk

June 13, 2018
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Angela Arnold Ross, left, M.S., LCGC, senior genetic counselor at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and Michael Stifelman, M.D., chief of Urologic Oncology at John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center, participated in a panel discussion titled, “Knowing Your Family’s Cancer Risk.” The interactive discussions are part of a complimentary series of community education talks called “Cancer Science Today.” Courtesy MSK

By Jenna O’Donnell |

NEPTUNE – On a recent May evening, two doctors led a frank discussion about cancer risk, genetic testing and counseling and different treatment and preventative options available. For those attending the free community talk at Jersey Shore Medical Center, it was an opportunity to seek some answers to some of their most pressing questions about cancer, perhaps most importantly: How to find out if your family is at risk.

For Verda J. Hicks M.D., Chief of Gynecologic Oncology at Jersey Shore University Medical Center and one of the two doctors leading that discussion, the event was educational as well.

“People raise concerns to you that make you think and work a little differently,” she said, adding that she was also struck by the level of research many individuals had done. “Many were raising very high level questions about what their problems are and what are the solutions.”

The talk, part of a community education series called “Knowing Your Family’s Cancer Risk” was hosted by Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) and Hackensack Meridian Health (HMH), a result of the partnership between the two.

Hicks described the partnership, which began in 2016, as a merging of the two organization’s strengths to improve patient outcomes. “The goal is patient care,” she said. “The real drive is also research and looking toward finding more cures together. When you look at clinical trials and research, each institution has kind of had historic strengths. So now we have access to these collaborative efforts.”

That collaboration resulted in the spring talk series, which featured professionals from each organization sharing their expertise with the local community. The series, hosted on consecutive months at the John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Monmouth in Middletown and Jersey Shore Medical Center, featured discussions on the topics of inherited gene mutations and their cancer risk, genetic testing and counseling, available treatment options and resources available through the MSK– HMH partnership for patients and their families.

“It’s about doing more for our New Jersey patients together than we could do apart,” said Angela Arnold Ross, a senior genetic counselor at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. She notes that things like joint patient guidelines and shared clinical trials are good for patients. “Everyone has expertise in different areas. And everyone doesn’t know it all.”

Arnold Ross was one of the two experts to participate in the second talk, hosted at MSK Monmouth in April, which she said was both enthusiastic and timely, touching on subjects such as the direct-to-consumer genetic test kits recently approved by the FDA.

Though the consumer kits are relatively inexpensive, she notes, they can be misleading or inaccurate. That’s why it’s important to have a sense of perspective.

“Sometimes these tests are not as accurate,” Arnold Ross said. “There can be a lot of uncertainty with results or false assurance or false positives that can be scary for patients.

“It’s why the community talks are so fantastic, because we’re taking on topics that are in the media,” she added. “It’s great to get accurate information to the community and to let them know what’s available to them.”

As the two organizations continue to explore new ways to bring top cancer treatment and care to New Jersey communities, Arnold Ross said to look for more talk series exploring new cancer-related topics in the fall.

“It’s just great that we can work on these projects with Hackensack,” Arnold Ross said. “It’s wonderful that we can collaborate with them and join our cancer experts together. There are so many advancements in oncology and they’re happening so fast.”

That sharing of expertise also extends to the organizations’ shared goals of providing the best possible care, treatment and outcomes to patients. Those efforts are most in play in the shared clinical research and clinical trials, said Hicks. “There’s so much knowledge and so much happening every day,” Hicks said. “None of us can have all of this knowledge. By working together we provide patients more possibilities and opportunities to access care.”

For more information about the MSK-HMH partnership, or to see video from the spring talk series, visit msk-hmhpartnership.org.

This article was first published in the June 7-June 14, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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