May 30, 2015
Progress in the crusade against cancer

Photo: Cleveland Clinic

The number of deaths from all cancers is generally down across the state.

Cancer Crusaders

Progress in the crusade against cancer

Janet Ware | 4/30/2014

Cancer Rates

Recent data show that cancer death rates in all 67 Florida counties between 2006-10 are either stable or falling. Only the following counties, however, meet the Healthy People 2020 Objectives for cancer death rates established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Collier, DeSoto, Glades, Highlands, Lee, Manatee, Martin, Miami-Dade, Osceola, Palm Beach, Sarasota and Sumter. Collier County had the lowest cancer death rate among all Florida counties between 2006-10 — 130. 5 deaths per 100,000 population.

Retaining a Florida Focus

Orlando Health's split from MD Anderson and its new alliance with UF Health has more to do with vision.

UF Health Cancer Center at Orlando Health

Orlando Health's announcement in December that it would sever a 22-year relationship with MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston took some by surprise.

The decision to separate wasn't a matter of unhappiness on either side. But the contract between the two was up for renewal in January and MD Anderson was looking to expand nationwide, while Orlando Health wanted to retain its Florida focus. Partnering with University of Florida Health instead seemed a logical choice.

"It was just time," says Dr. Mark Roh, who served as president of MD Anderson-Orlando and retains the president's title at what is now called UF Health Cancer Center at Orlando Health. "No one would deny that MD Anderson has been critically important to our growth over the years. If we hadn't been part of that, we wouldn't have matured to the point that we were attractive to an entity like the University of Florida. "

In joining forces with UF Health, Orlando Health has essentially doubled its medical staff and can offer wider access to new drugs, clinical trials and leading-edge cancer treatments. The combination — the partners view themselves as equals — pushes UF Health into the ranks of Florida's top five comprehensive cancer centers, and the two hope their joint oncology program will bring them closer to becoming a designated National Cancer Institute treatment center, a distinction currently held by only one other Florida-based facility — Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. California has 10 such centers, New York has six and Texas four. Gov. Rick Scott in January announced proposed legislation that would establish the Florida Consortium of National Cancer Institute Centers, a move meant to enhance the quality of cancer care in Florida by creating more National Cancer Institute designated centers throughout the state.

The UF-Orlando Health partnership became official on Jan. 31, and the only obvious difference is cosmetic. Gone is the annual licensing fee paid to MD Anderson for access to its Texas-based consultants and use of its highly regarded name. Along with Roh, the roster of specialty physicians at the Orlando site remains unchanged.

"None of our doctors have left," says Dr. Roh. "So I say to former patients, ‘You may be wedded to the MD Anderson name because that's who cured you, but the people who cured you are still here. ' "

In partnering with UF, Orlando Health liked the idea of being directly linked to a research university and, in particular, to one with a medical school. UF offered basic science and funded research; Orlando Health offered a positive track record and more than two decades of providing innovative cancer care.

"Their strengths turned out to be not our strengths," says Roh, "and so it was a good match. "

Among the joint initiatives planned by the partners is emphasis on "personalized cancer care," a treatment approach that involves determining the appropriate chemotherapy regimen based on a particular cancer's unique genetic "fingerprint. " UF already is known for research in this field; Dr. Phillips Charities has contributed $1. 5 million toward the establishment of a genetically based personalized cancer treatment program at Orlando Health in 2014.

In the meantime, some of the first to benefit from the UF-Orlando Health partnership, says Dr. Paul Okunieff, director of the UF Health Cancer Center in Gainesville, may be those looking to participate in clinical trials.

"Joining forces has given us a huge advantage in terms of attracting clinical trials," he says. "Drug companies want to do studies that have an academic focus and a large reach. Already I have industry people calling me in a way I never had before, and I have to believe it's because of our size. Size matters in this business. If you're one of the largest, you become one of the best. "

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