Some important research is going on in the northwest. Dr. Brian Lawenda of 21st Century Oncology of Las Vegas is heading a pilot program to treat cancer patients.
Called the Integrative Oncology and Survivorship Program, it utilizes a multipronged approach to seeing patients have fewer side effects from treatment, helping them make lifestyle changes that have been shown to reduce risks associated with cancer recurrence. Complementary practices can include anything from diet changes to stress reduction to nutritional supplements. The practice’s northwest Las Vegas office is at 2851 N. Tenaya Way, near MountainView Hospital.
“(One of the goals) is to improve the patient’s quality of life as they go through their cancer treatment and after,” Lawenda said.
He has been using an integrative approach to treating cancer since 2006. Through 21st Century Oncology, he initiated the pilot program in Las Vegas in 2013. The data collected so far indicates that this approach is making tangible inroads into the quality of life of those with cancer.
Research that supports the incorporation of stress reduction includes an Ohio University study that followed 227 female breast cancer survivors. Half were given stress-reduction therapy. The other half were not. After 11 years, the data shows about a 50 to 60 percent reduced incident in recurrence and death due to cancer for those receiving the stress therapy.
John Romas of Summerlin is battling prostate cancer and is one of Lawenda’s patients. According to cancer.org, while different factors come into play, such as age, a man is considered at risk should his prostate specific antigen reach 4.0. PSA is a protein produced by cells of the prostate gland. When Romas’ PSA count rose to 4.6, he became concerned.
“Right away, you think, ‘Uh oh, trouble,’ ” he said. “I got an anxiety attack.”
His father had prostate cancer about 30 years ago, he said, and used radioactive seeds, the effectiveness of which has since been under debate. But Romas had new technology on his side. While investigating his options, he found Lawenda and agreed to be part of his clinical study. Instead of the standard 45 days of radiation, Romas underwent five sessions of high-intensity targeted radiation. He said the side effects — a rash, some pain and gastrointestinal tract fluctuations — were well tolerated and worth the shorter treatment. His PSA has dropped to .8.
“Now it’s not weighing on my mind anymore,” Romas said.
Some facilities report that up to one-third of patients cannot complete their prescribed course of chemotherapy or radiation treatments due to intolerable side effects.
“So, if we’re able to help patients get through treatment more easily … then we can continue with the prescribed treatment and the intensity of the prescribed treatment, and hopefully the outcomes will be completely optimized,” Lawenda said. “… The other thing that I think is very important is empowerment. Empowerment lets them know there are things that they can do to help them get through treatments more easily and may — it’s important to highlight ‘may’ — help reduce the risk of their cancer coming back.”
Lawenda has been involved in similar studies before. Along with colleagues, he said he tested antioxidants, specifically vitamin E and green tea, which were given to cancerous mice at Harvard University in 2003. He said that up until that point, cancer patients had been told they shouldn’t take antioxidants during chemotherapy and radiation because it could potentially interfere with treatment.
“But we didn’t have a lot of data to back that up,” he said. “It was anecdotal.”
So, Lawenda said he approached the nutrition school at Tufts University and asked Dr. Jeffrey Blumberg, director of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory, to take him under his wing. Working also with Dr. Rakesh Jain, director of the Steele Laboratory for Tumor Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital, they took hundreds of mice and implanted breast cancer into them and fed them a typical mouse diet versus a diet supplemented with vitamin E. Another group of mice got the equivalent of three to four cups of green tea a day.
“Then I radiated the mice with tumors to see what the effect would be, and I found the antioxidants slowed the growth of the tumors down, before I even radiated them,” said Lawenda, who took the lead on the project. “Then, after you radiated them, it actually turned out that the mice had protection from the radiation on their normal tissues. … with no evidence of tumor protection. It changed the way we were thinking.”
The results were published in a medical journal, and Lawenda’s research career was launched.
Sara Costanza, senior physician liaison at 21st Century Oncology, said patients don’t have to go out of town to get treatment.
“It’s a pretty new subspecialty. There aren’t a lot of integrative oncologists, so I think people are just learning about it now,” she said. “Our patients really love it; they know it’s helping them get through treatment and getting their family involved. It encompasses everything for the best outcome.”
It’s believed that 90 percent of cancers are not directly related to one’s genetics but to factors such as poor diet, low physical activity, chronic stress, chronic inflammation and carcinogenic exposures that can begin as early as in the uterus.
“There’s a large role for preventive medicine for decreasing one’s risk of developing cancer,” Lawenda said.
About 30 percent of cancers can be attributed to what we eat, he said.
Romas said the all-around approach to his care, which included dietary supplements, liver detoxification, acupuncture and changing to a Mediterranean-based diet, were all part of being treated at 21st Century Oncology. Best of all, he said he has peace of mind.
“This is a collaborate team approach,” Romas said. “It’s one of the things that makes this work.”
Other 21st Century Oncology locations in the Las Vegas Valley are at 6160 S. Fort Apache Road; 3006 S. Maryland Parkway, Suite 100; and 52 N. Pecos Road in Henderson. For more information, visit 21concologylasvegas.com.
Contact Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2949.