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VOL. 123 | NO. 158 | Wednesday, August 13, 2008

ACORN Takes Step Forward In War on Cancer

By Rosalind Guy

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A local research network with ties to The West Clinic has taken a step to ensure the best treatment methods are chosen for cancer patients who are treated in The West Clinic as well as other clinics affiliated with the network.

Memphis-based Accelerated Community Oncology Research Network (ACORN) recently presented findings of what’s called evidenced-based treatment protocol (ETP) usage in community oncology clinics at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

ACORN is a community of oncology clinics begun in 2002 by physicians at The West Clinic.

Big step forward

As for the findings, those involved say it’s more of a validation when the best clinical pathway is chosen, because it provides a better outcome for patients’ health and quality of life.

“In medicine, one of the real challenges is demonstrating health outcomes,” said Steve Coplon, CEO of ACORN and The West Clinic. “And what we’ve been able to demonstrate, and what was presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting, was the best pathway that will most likely produce the best health outcome, both for the disease and quality of life of patients.

“In particular for certain diseases like colorectal, breast, prostate and lung cancer. So it’s exciting. It’s really another great step forward to help in the war on cancer.”

ETP treatments combine the “best-known scientific literature and clinical expertise provided by medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, radiologists and other specialists.”

Because oncology is the most complex of all medical specialties and there are many clinical pathways to treat patients, practitioners want to make sure they’re providing the treatments available to patients, Coplon said.

Dr. Lee Schwartzberg, medical director of The West Clinic and ACORN, presented the results of the ACORN study at the annual meeting of oncology practitioners.

Data analysis was presented from a sample of 292 patients from five ACORN practices who received an ETP regimen with no more than minor dose variations.

An ETP regimen is a defined schedule of chemotherapy agents and supportive care drugs, including drugs for preventing nausea and fatigue, coupled with laboratory and radiology services.

Where the war is waged

In addition to The West Clinic, other practices involved included Hematology-Oncology Centers of the Northern Rockies in Billings, Mont.; Northwest Georgia Oncology Centers in Marietta, Ga.; and Atlanta Cancer Care in Decatur, Ga.

Coplon said the study was an important one because the participants were community-based patients, who happened to be receiving treatment at clinics affiliated with the ACORN network.

In other words, the study was conducted in a normal clinic environment rather than in a controlled setting such as a university.

“In oncology and cancer care, 85 percent of the patients in the U.S. are treated in private settings and not in the university settings,” Coplon said. “So a large number of the advances in the war on cancer are happening in the private clinics and not in the university setting.”

The study also was significant because it was the first of its kind where research-quality data was gathered and analyzed from everyday community-based patients who are not involved in a formal research protocol. Typically, universities spearhead these types of research-based studies.

It’s important to continue making strides with research on the very battleground where the war is waged because it ensures patients that they are receiving the best care, Coplon added.

“There’s been a lot of variability, not necessarily poor health care but variability, and this is sort of narrowing those pathways to ensure that the best pathway is being selected,” he said. “This is an organic process that will continue. We’ve been doing it for several years and we’ll continue forever.”

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