What will cancer care look like over the next 20 years? It’s hard to predict, but at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), we think we have a good idea, based on the promise of our research and U.S. cancer mortality rates that continue to slowly but steadily decline.
It’s been two decades since we first opened our doors in South Lake Union, launching us on a journey that has led to us consistently being named one of the top cancer hospitals in the U.S. A unique collaboration that combines the leading research teams and cancer specialists from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, University of Washington Medicine and Seattle Children’s enables us to provide patients the highest quality cancer care. We never forget the reason we were founded: the single-minded pursuit of better, longer, richer lives for our patients. To that end, not only do we offer state-of-the-art clinical care; we develop it, pushing the boundaries of how we treat cancer by enrolling patients in path-blazing clinical trials that can provide earlier access to emerging therapies. In these past 20 years, nearly 20% of our 190,000 patients have participated in one of more than 1,700 trials.
Some of these trials explore the promise of cellular immunotherapy, which harnesses a patient’s immune system to treat their cancer. One area where we’ve focused our efforts is CAR-T therapy, which takes immune cells called T cells from a patient, then isolates, modifies and multiplies them in a lab before reinfusing them, where they go to work fighting that patient’s cancer. With Fred Hutch pioneering some of this groundbreaking research, SCCA is among the top providers of lifesaving CAR-T infusions in the nation. And we are one of the first cancer centers in the nation to offer all three FDA-approved cellular immunotherapies for people living with certain types of blood cancers, including non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Innovative science powered in part by University of Washington then applied at SCCA helped lead to FDA approval of a new drug for a subset of bladder patients; the results of the trial were considered so impactful that they have reshaped international guidelines and treatment recommendations for this patient group. Yet another trial, aimed at some patients with lung cancer, amplifies the personalized approach that lies at the core of how we care for patients. The research is examining how to assess the effectiveness of treatment as it’s underway, allowing our providers to give patients the exact right dose of chemotherapy and radiation for their unique situation rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach.
It’s these sorts of trials that directly translate to better treatments and better outcomes for patients, which means more time with family and friends, doing meaningful work or just watching the sun set behind the Olympic Mountains.
As we look to the future of cancer care, we expect technology such as artificial intelligence, advanced imaging innovations and molecular testing to continue to be leveraged in cancer diagnosis and treatment plans. While we have effective molecular testing across many cancers today — breast cancer, prostate cancer, hematologic malignancies, lung cancer, colon cancer, sarcoma and others — our teams have helped expand this field by uncovering biomarkers that indicate a person’s risk for cancers as well as what treatments will work best for them. It’s yet another way we are ensuring our patients have access to the latest emerging technologies that translate to better health outcomes.
The power of science has never been more apparent than in the past year. Confronting COVID-19, the greatest public-health challenge of our time, has highlighted the value of working together to put research and data first. At SCCA, we have been taking that same collaborative approach to cancer care for the past 20 years.
COVID’s death toll has been devastating: More than 440,000 U.S. lives were lost in the past year. But even during these challenging times, cancer has not taken a break; it still claims more than 600,000 Americans’ lives each and every year. This makes it more vital than ever that we double down on our commitment to research and to the power of science to help our patients prevent or treat — and beat — cancer.