A highly specialized team of experts offers hope to patients with hard-to-treat blood cancers
Treatment for blood cancers such as leukemia and Hodgkin lymphoma is intense. Chemotherapy can last weeks or months. Hospital stays are frequent. And follow-up can continue for years. People with these conditions need the care of physicians who have subspecialty training.
Until last summer, patients in the region who wanted cancer specialists from the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center to lead their health care team had to coordinate their care in Baltimore. That required a two-hour trip there and back—or even a temporary move there for months of treatment.
“Patients and their loved ones had to work through the travel, scheduling of appointments and the time and expense of being away from home, all while not feeling their best,” says MargaretShowel,M.D., oncologist, specializing in malignant hematology in the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center at Sibley. She is also clinical associate and assistant professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Division of Hematologic Malignancies. “Today, we’ve assembled the vast majority of the specialists they need in the new Hematologic Oncology Program. So patients who live here can stay here for treatment.”
VISION AND PLANNING
“It is hard to find a hematologic oncology program as large or experienced as the Johns Hopkins program,” Dr. Showel says. “This level of care now available is a dramatic improvement for people in the Washington, D.C. region.”
The services include a dedicated inpatient unit and outpatient services in our new building. “Patients who need infusion of blood cells might visit the center two to three times each week,” Dr. Showel says. “Having such convenient access to this care is a huge benefit for them, and it enables our team to monitor them closely.”
ACCESS TO CARE
Convenience is a benefit, of course. But having a local team of specialists may also affect health outcomes.
“Some of these conditions are notorious for their ability to progress rapidly and can go from chronic to acute sometimes in a matter of weeks,” says Laura Wake, M.D., hematopathologist and instructor of pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Division of Hematologic Pathology. Hematopathology is a field focused on diseases of the blood and lymph system. “These patients need ongoing follow-up care and experts nearby to follow them closely. This program meets that need.”
INTEGRATION IS KEY
As part of the Johns Hopkins Health System, the team at Sibley incorporates all the resources of the main campus in Baltimore into each patient’s care, Dr. Showel says. For example, Sibley physicians offer new therapies and medicines locally through research trials at Johns Hopkins.
“Being able to offer our patients the latest treatments, which could be less intense and come with fewer side effects, can make a big difference for them,” she says. Patients also benefit from regular tumor board meetings held in Baltimore, where a team of specialists reviews each patient’s diagnosis, treatment and overall care.
“Bone marrow stem cell transplant is the only treatment not yet available,” she says. “Otherwise, for initial diagnosis, treatment and ongoing care, including transplant, we offer all the advancements of the Johns Hopkins team.”
TEAM OF SUBSPECIALISTS GROWS
There’s a growing team of specialists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. Recent additions to the medical staff are Khaled El-Shami, M.B.Ch.B., Ph.D., oncologist, and Laura Wake, M.D., hematopathologist. Dr. El-Shami is a clinical associate and assistant professor of oncology in the Division of Hematologic Malignancies at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Wake is instructor of pathology at Johns Hopkins in the Division of Hematologic Pathology. Also new to the team are pharmacist Esther Ahn and nurse practitioner PhyllisRumore-Farris.
“This really is a special program,” Dr. Wake says. “It’s a highly professional team, assembled here in one setting. It’s a big step to help us improve care for our patients.”