When Betty Hosteny was diagnosed with sarcoma, she felt overwhelmed. Like many patients, she found sarcoma to be a particularly scary form of cancer. Sarcomas are a group of cancers that develop in the tissues that support and connect the body. They are rare and often require surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Seeking the best care possible, Hosteny began researching her options and quickly settled on the sarcoma program at the Lurie Cancer Center.
"One of my first questions was 'How many sarcoma patients do you see in a year,' and they by far see the most in the Midwest, so hands-down that's the group I want," Hosteny says. "There are so many variations of sarcoma, and if they haven't seen it all they've seen the most."
Northwestern Medicine's leading-edge sarcoma practice is a carefully assembled multidisciplinary team of expert physicians and clinicians representing Medical Oncology, Surgical Oncology, Radiation Oncology and Orthopaedic Oncology, as well as a dedicated sarcoma pathologist. These experts meet regularly to review and discuss each patient's case, treatment and best course of action. This spirit of multidisciplinary collaboration, performed by some of the country's leading sarcoma experts, is what defines the program, says Jeffrey Wayne, MD, chief of Melanoma and Sarcoma Surgery.
"We know from experience that when patients are managed in a multidisciplinary fashion they tend to get all the available modalities of therapy in the appropriate order and they tend to have the best outcomes — both survival outcomes but also quality of life outcomes," Dr. Wayne says. "We have a unique breadth and depth of expertise compared to other leading health systems in the region. We use an evidence-based, multidisciplinary patient care approach to create a treatment plan, that often includes molecular-based therapies, that are individualized to the patient's individual tumor."
Northwestern Medicine's sarcoma program is unique in the Midwest by providing access to leading-edge clinical trials that pair our patients with the breakthroughs of tomorrow.
"We can offer a standard of care, but we can also offer you access to drugs you wouldn't otherwise have access to elsewhere," says Mark Agulnik, MD, hemotolgist and oncologist. "We have the latest and greatest available. Any large Phase III clinical trial that is trying to change the landscape of sarcoma research will be open here at Northwestern Medicine. The large Phase II clinical trials that are being done at several centers across the United States will always incorporate Northwestern as well, just because of the volume of patients we see, but we also have the ability to open up smaller Phase II clinical trials of novel therapeutics to see whether or not these drugs will have an impact for our patients."
Some sarcomas, such as leiomyosarcoma, chondrosarcoma and gastrointestinal stromal tumor, are more common in adults than in children. But most high-grade bone sarcomas, including Ewing's sarcoma and osteosarcoma, are more commonly found in children and young adults.
"We are fortunate to be working with Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, which is unique because about a third of the sarcoma patients are under the age of 16," says Terrence Peabody, MD, chair of the department of Orthopaedic Surgery. "We're physically across the street and we use the same treatment team. The children can get their chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery all at Lurie Children's and never have to leave that facility."
Beyond medical advancements and partnerships, the sarcoma program, with its centralized multidisciplinary approach, simply provides a convenience factor through its coordination, adds Karl Bilimoria, MD, surgical oncologist and researcher.
"Before you even show up you'll probably notice a tremendous difference compared to most centers," Dr. Bilimoria says. "In surgery, we have one nurse who coordinates your entire experience, making sure that all of your pathology slides, imaging reports, prior doctors notes are all brought here and organized ahead of your visit. That way you get the most out of your visit, in that we have all the information and have already reviewed it in advance."
Hosteny noticed the benefits of the coordinated effort. "I was able to get quick appointments and quick turnaround," she says. "I was able to get scheduled for tests promptly and get the test results promptly. And that's all huge, because you're under so much stress anyway. You don’t need to be chasing down appointments and results and making phone calls.”
Jeffrey Wayne, MD, is chief of Melanoma and Sarcoma Surgery within the division of Gastrointestinal and Oncologic Surgery at the Lurie Cancer Center and associate professor in Surgery-Surgical Oncology and Dermatology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Mark Agulnik, MD, hemotolgist and oncologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the Lurie Cancer Center, and associate professor in Medicine-Hematology/Oncology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Terrence Peabody, MD, chair of the department of Orthopaedic Surgery and the Edwin Warner Ryerson professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and chair of the department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Karl Bilimoria, MD, surgical oncologist and researcher at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the Lurie Cancer Center, and vice chair for Quality and on the faculty in the department of Surgery at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
John P. Hayes, MD, medical director for Radiation Oncology at Northwestern Medicine, member of the Lurie Cancer Center and assistant professor in Radiation Oncology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine