Lung cancer program puts the emphasis on personal

Within the multidisciplinary Lung Cancer Program at USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center at Keck Medicine of USC, the term "personalized medicine" takes on several layers of meaning—starting with the way each patient is evaluated as a unique individual by specialists who call on a variety of tools to craft customized treatment plans. 

"We want to treat every patient as if we were taking care of our own relatives—that's the human factor, the personal touch our comprehensive program offers," says Anthony W. Kim, MD, director of the division of thoracic surgery and professor of clinical surgery in the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

That approach begins from the patient's first call, with an experienced lung cancer nurse navigator providing guidance throughout the process. Patients typically are able to see all their doctors in one visit, at a weekly multispecialty clinic that brings together experts in thoracic surgery, medical oncology, radiation oncology and pulmonology. Also on the team are a dedicated thoracic radiologist and a lung pathologist.

Personalized medicine also is reflected in Keck Medicine's expertise in tailoring a patient's individual care based on molecular profiling of lung cancer, which remains the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in men and women. It is, by far, the leading cause of death among cancer, exceeding deaths from the next four cancers combined.

In addition to molecular-based therapy and targeted chemotherapy, the Lung Cancer Program offers a full range of treatment options. They include robotic-assisted surgery and video-assisted thoracoscopic lobectomies, advanced radiation oncology, ablation therapy and different forms of non-invasive stereotactic body radiation therapy.

Physicians rely on the latest technologies, including low-dose CT scan screening for high-risk individuals and endobronchial ultrasound, to diagnose and stage lung cancer. "These advances are changing our world and giving us more opportunities to help our patients from start to finish," says Kim.

Kim's research interests embody the program's multi-level pursuits. He's committed to health outcomes research, which "has the potential to change treatment guidelines and health policy," he says. Future goals include working with translational scientists and medical oncologists, as he has done in the past, to study tumor growth and response to therapies, including immunotherapy. The aim is to enhance delivery for each eligible patient — more of that personal approach.

Other advances in thoracic oncology — from more advanced molecular profiling to 3D printing for tissue engineering of thoracic organs — represent areas where the program can potentially push the scientific envelope. "Fortunately, we have the support of everyone at Keck Medicine in our explorations," says Kim. "Our team's successes are successes for our entire medical center and especially for our patients."