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Monday, April 02, 2012 - Massey’s Bone Marrow Transplant Program hones holistic care

For doctors at VCU Massey Cancer Center’s Bone Marrow Transplant Program (BMT), it’s about treating the person, not just the disease. That means getting to know patients early and intimately, tailoring treatment plans that maximize effectiveness while limiting risk and following patients long after they leave.

Bone marrow and peripheral blood stem cell transplant is a treatment option for a wide variety of cancers, including chronic and acute leukemias, Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma.

Massey’s BMT Program has thrived under a holistic philosophy since its inception in 1988, making it the longest continuously operating program of its kind in the state. It’s also the most comprehensive program, treating both adults and children and offering all types of bone marrow and stem cell transplants, including umbilical cord blood transplants.

Treatment decisions are based on the type and status of the disease, tumor markers and genetic changes that predict chance of cure and chance of recurrence with standard-dose therapy.

Massey offers several types of transplants. The two main methods include autologous stem cell transplantation (in which the patient’s own stem cells are used to cure or prolong survival in certain types of cancers) and allogeneic stem cell transplantation (in which donor stem cells replace the patient’s stem cells and rebuild a healthier immune system). Massey can perform these transplants from related donors and unrelated donors.

By building a integrative network with other community health care providers, the program has led the charge in no longer approaching transplant care as a last resort when standard cancer therapies have proved ineffective.

“The earlier we can partner with referring physicians, the better we can tailor transplant procedures,” said Dr. John M. McCarty, medical director of the program.

The ultimate goal, Dr. McCarty added, is to make seamless the complex, comprehensive course of treatment by developing an arc of therapy, whereby all of the doctors are involved in every step of the process and not just passing patients along.

The establishment of the BMT Program’s long-term follow-up care clinic takes that notion a step further and puts the responsibility on program doctors to see that the disease stays in remission and, as Dr. McCarty contends, to “know that patients are healthy, that they’re reintegrated into their lives and that they’re able to enjoy those lives.”

“And we’ll follow them five, 10 years and more down the road to ensure that,” Dr. McCarty added.

Providing long-term follow-up care has also helped Massey specialists and researchers spearhead scientific and clinical advances over the past two decades. By staying active in the long-term recovery process, doctors can search for objective methods and biomarkers that can accurately measure success and help better predict how the transplant process should be carried out.

This comprehensive, forward-thinking approach, Dr. McCarty suggests, is only made possible through the consistency, longevity and recognition that Massey’s BMT Program has been able to cultivate over the past 24 years — a standing that has helped continually position the program at the leading edge of discovery.

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