University of Maryland School of Medicine Cancer Research Featured at American Society for Radiation Oncology Annual Meeting
Researchers in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) presented significant findings in two studies featured today at the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) annual meeting in San Diego. They are among 10 top-rated research studies ASTRO is highlighting and 33 presentations by department members at this year's meeting.
Soren Bentzen, PhD, DMSc, Professor of Radiation Oncology and Director of the Division of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at UMSOM and a member of the University of Maryland Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMGCCC), led a randomized Phase III clinical trial that found a type of head and neck cancer diagnosed predominantly in people who reside in low- and middle-income countries may be treated effectively with fewer, but higher, doses of radiation.
This type of squamous cell cancer, linked to alcohol and tobacco use, is rising in low and middle-income countries, where the rates are already disproportionately high. Some of these countries lack sufficient radiation therapy facilities, and patients need to travel long distances or be away from home for extended periods of time to receive treatment.
"Head and neck cancer caused by factors other than human papillomavirus (HPV) remains a significant burden especially in lower- and middle-income countries," Dr. Bentzen said. "This is a trial that informs how healthcare providers can effectively deliver radiation therapy to patients in a resource-scarce environment."
The clinical trial, which enrolled 792 patients in 10 low and middle-income countries across four continents, found that delivering an accelerated course of radiation in 20 sessions vs. 33 sessions was just as effective and didn't increase side effects. The HYPNO (HYPo- versus NOrmo-fractionated accelerated radiotherapy) trial was sponsored by the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. View more details about the study.
In another presentation, Alexander J. Allen, MD, a radiation oncology resident at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC who sees patients at UMGCCC and the Maryland Proton Treatment Center (MPTC), detailed how having a patient navigator work with people with prostate cancer can greatly increase the likelihood that patients, particularly Black patients, will receive advanced genomic testing to help predict the severity of their disease and guide treatment.
The study by Dr. Allen and his UMSOM colleagues showed that patients who were seen by a precision medicine navigator were substantially more likely to receive genomic testing than those not seen by a navigator. Black patients, whose genomic testing rates traditionally are much lower than white patients, experienced a six-fold increase if they worked with a patient navigator.
"Black patients with prostate cancer in the U.S. have disparately worse outcomes compared to other racial groups," Dr. Allen, the lead author, said. "Our findings suggest hiring a precision medicine navigator who specializes in genetic testing can improve the rates of Black patients receiving these tests, which can potentially reduce health disparities and improve outcomes."
The research was conducted at UMMC, other hospitals in the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) and radiation oncology practices affiliated with UMGCCC. Researchers compared how frequently patients with prostate cancer received genetic testing in the seven months prior to hiring the navigator and in the seven months afterward. The study was funded by the University of Maryland Precision Radiation Oncology initiative.
Once they were seen by a precision medicine navigator, the proportion of Black patients referred for genomic testing rose from 19% to 58%. Genomic testing rates also increased for lower-income patients (from 20% to 64%), those on Medicare and Medicaid (from 20% to 68.5%) and for people who were treated at community hospitals (from 6% to 77%).
Dr. Allen said that genomic testing results altered treatment plans for many patients who received them, primarily in regard to whether those with intermediate-risk disease received hormone-blocking therapy to help prevent cancer growth.
He added that additional research is needed to determine whether the increased rates of testing ultimately lead to better outcomes for patients. View more details.
Phuoc Tran, MD, PhD, Professor of Radiation Oncology and Vice Chair for Radiation Oncology Research at UMSOM, will be honored with an ASTRO Mentorship Award. The award recognizes extraordinary mentors in radiation oncology who demonstrate outstanding commitment to the professional development of their mentees as clinicians, educators and researchers.
Dr. Allen also received the 2023 ASTRO Annual Meeting Award, which acknowledges clinical research being performed by young scientists. It is given to the top resident author of a significant study in radiobiology, clinical research and physics.
"As one of the top radiation oncology research programs in the U.S., it is important for us to lead advances in providing greater access to cancer treatment for patients in emerging countries, and in closing the health disparities gap for Black cancer patients, who have significantly worse outcomes compared to other racial groups," said UMSOM Dean Mark T. Gladwin, MD, who is also Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, UM Baltimore, and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor at UMSOM. "We are proud to have Dr. Bentzen and Dr. Allen recognized for their leadership in these areas and Dr. Tran for his incredible commitment to helping to develop the next generation of clinicians and researchers."
About the University of Maryland School of Medicine
Now in its third century, the University of Maryland School of Medicine was chartered in 1807 as the first public medical school in the United States. It continues today as one of the fastest growing, top-tier biomedical research enterprises in the world -- with 46 academic departments, centers, institutes, and programs, and a faculty of more than 3,000 physicians, scientists, and allied health professionals, including members of the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and a distinguished two-time winner of the Albert E. Lasker Award in Medical Research. With an operating budget of more than $1.2 billion, the School of Medicine works closely in partnership with the University of Maryland Medical Center and Medical System to provide research-intensive, academic, and clinically based care for nearly 2 million patients each year. The School of Medicine has more than $500 million in extramural funding, with most of its academic departments highly ranked among all medical schools in the nation in research funding. As one of the seven professional schools that make up the University of Maryland, Baltimore campus, the School of Medicine has a total population of nearly 9,000 faculty and staff, including 2,500 students, trainees, residents, and fellows. The School of Medicine, which ranks as the 8th highest among public medical schools in research productivity (according to the Association of American Medical Colleges profile) is an innovator in translational medicine, with 606 active patents and 52 start-up companies. In the latest U.S. News & World Report ranking of the Best Medical Schools, published in 2023, the UM School of Medicine is ranked #10 among the 92 public medical schools in the U.S., and in the top 16 percent (#32) of all 192 public and private U.S. medical schools. The School of Medicine works locally, nationally, and globally, with research and treatment facilities in 36 countries around the world. Visit medschool.umaryland.edu
About the University of Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center
The University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center is a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in Baltimore. The center is a joint entity of the University of Maryland Medical Center and University of Maryland School of Medicine. It offers a multidisciplinary approach to treating all types of cancer and has an active cancer research program. It is ranked among the top cancer programs in the nation. www.umgccc.org.
About the University of Maryland Medical Center
The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) is comprised of two hospital campuses in Baltimore: the 800-bed flagship institution of the 11-hospital University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) and the 200-bed UMMC Midtown Campus. Both campuses are academic medical centers for training physicians and health professionals and for pursuing research and innovation to improve health. UMMC's downtown campus is a national and regional referral center for trauma, cancer care, neurosciences, advanced cardiovascular care, and women's and children's health, and has one of the largest solid organ transplant programs in the country. All physicians on staff at the downtown campus are clinical faculty physicians of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The UMMC Midtown Campus medical staff is predominately faculty physicians specializing in a wide spectrum of medical and surgical subspecialties, primary care for adults and children and behavioral health. UMMC Midtown has been a teaching hospital for 140 years and is located one mile away from the downtown campus. For more information, visit www.umm.edu.