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Life-saving Blood Cancer Treatment Now Available at St. Luke’s
October 19, 2016

St. Luke’s University Health Network recently announced a clinical arrangement with Fox Chase-Temple University Hospital’s Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) program, giving St. Luke’s blood cancer patients access to Fox Chase’s leading-edge Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) program without having to travel to Philadelphia.

Because of this clinical relationship, St. Luke’s cancer patients will be able to receive progressive treatments and have access to a larger number of clinical trials. This enables St. Luke’s doctors to oversee the uniformity of care to which St. Luke’s patients are accustomed, while adhering to the clinical protocols of Fox Chase, ensuring the very best possible outcome for cancer patients.

“This collaboration between St. Luke’s and Fox Chase was developed to provide optimal patient care for our cancer patients,” says Dr. Sanjiv Agarwala, chief of medical oncology & hematology, St. Luke's University Health Network. “Patients have the added convenience of receiving their care here locally instead of traveling to Philadelphia for their routine visits and also participating in life-saving clinical trials that they otherwise would not have access to here in the Lehigh Valley.”

When a patient is diagnosed with blood cancer, like leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma, the body’s natural process of making blood cells is compromised, making a bone marrow transplant necessary. The bone marrow is the spongy tissue inside the bone that makes both red and white blood cells and platelets. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body, white blood cells fight disease and infection and platelets allow the body to carry out the clotting function to control bleeding. In patients with blood cancers, high doses of chemotherapy are often necessary to destroy the threatening cells in the blood. These high levels of chemotherapy also destroy or damage the body’s bone marrow, making a transplant of vital importance. A bone marrow transplant essentially replaces unhealthy bone marrow with healthy bone marrow. In a BMT, doctors infuse healthy, blood-cell-making marrow into the body and the transplanted cells start making healthy cells.

 When healthy bone marrow, either from a donor or from the patient before treatment, can be transplanted successfully, there is a better chance of curing the cancer than with other, more conservative treatments. The transplant makes it possible for the patient to make their own bone marrow again, meet their treatment goals and maintain quality of life – the ultimate goal of St. Luke’s doctors, the Fox Chase team as well as patients and their families.

While transplant procedures are conducted in Philadelphia, BMT patients may receive their pre- and post-operative care here in the Lehigh Valley – a convenient alternative to traveling back and forth.

“Dr. Henry Fung and his team will have clinic hours on a regular basis at St. Luke’s Cancer Center - Anderson Campus and be able to treat Lehigh Valley area patients we refer to them for BMT,” explains Dr. Agarwala. “In addition, our doctors can collaborate with Fox Chase directly on clinical care issues and BMT related research trials.”

Dr. Henry C. Fung, MD, FRCPE, vice chair of hematology/oncology at Fox Chase Cancer Center and director of the Fox Chase-Temple BMT program, will meet with patients at St. Luke’s Cancer Center – Anderson Campus. Dr. Fung recently visited the Lehigh Valley for the first partner clinic, consulting with potential transplant and clinical trial candidates in the Easton area. His presence on the St. Luke’s cancer team will improve the clinical communication between the program and the regional referring physicians and enhance the geographic access to potential patients in the Lehigh Valley area.

“There is nothing more fulfilling for me than seeing my patients thrive and go on to live full and healthy lives,” says Dr. Fung. “I’m happy to be able to offer this live-saving BMT program to the patients of the Lehigh Valley through our partnership with St. Luke’s.”

Fox Chase is one of very few cancer research hospitals in the country, so the partnership is a huge benefit for St. Luke’s patients navigating their course of treatment. Working with Fox-Chase allows St. Luke’s cancer doctors like Dr. Agarwala to utilize every advantage possible to provide the most individualized care for each patient.

September was Blood Cancer Awareness month. The three main types of blood cancer include leukemia, which affects blood and bone marrow, lymphoma, which impacts the function of the lymphatic system and myeloma, which is a cancer of the blood’s plasma cells. Leukemia is the most common cancer found in children under the age of 20. It is estimated that 171,550 people in the United States will be diagnosed with one of these types of cancers this year. Blood cancers affect the bone marrow, blood cells and lymph nodes and can be very serious. 160 people across the country die every day from blood cancer. However, when patients have access to life-saving bone marrow transplants, their odds of a positive outcome increase significantly.