USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital: Groundbreaking Programs, Innovative Treatments

Laura Bruck
Published: Tuesday, Apr 17, 2012
USC Norris Cancer Center

USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital

The University of Southern California (USC) Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital has long enjoyed a national reputation as a leading resource for cancer research, treatment, prevention, and education. Located in Los Angeles, the Center was named one of the nation’s first eight comprehensive cancer centers in 1973, and has held this National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation ever since.

The USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center maintains affiliations with several hospitals in the Los Angeles area, including the USC Norris Cancer Hospital, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Keck Hospital of USC, and Los Angeles County USC Medical Center. Patients who visit the Center’s outpatient clinics and affiliated hospitals reap the benefits of the ground-breaking work of nearly 200 scientists and physicians, with access to a wide range of already-approved novel agents and hundreds of clinical trials.

Research at Norris is organized into five thematic programs (molecular genetics, epigenetics and regulation, tumor microenvironment, cancer epidemiology, and cancer control research) and five translational research programs (genitourinary cancers, gastrointestinal cancers, women’s cancers, leukemia and lymphoma, and developmental therapeutics). The overall goal of “fostering collaborative research in the areas of basic, clinical, epidemiological, cancer control, and translational research” is evident throughout the Center and its affiliated sites, and is especially apparent in the USC Norris Melanoma Program and soon-to-be-launched Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Cancer Program.

Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Program

In the coming year, the USC / Norris Cancer Center, the Norris Cancer Hospital, and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles will launch the AYA Cancer Program, bringing together teams of specialists from all areas of oncology to advance both research and comprehensive care for patients with cancer between the ages of 15 to 39 years. With this undertaking, Norris and Children’s Hospital join what is only a handful of centers nationwide with dedicated programs for patients in this age group.

The need for an AYA program is pressing. Cancer is this age group’s leading disease-related cause of death, and more than 70,000 adolescents and young adults are diagnosed in the United States each year. Despite impressive survival-related advances in other age groups, progress in the AYA population has lagged, and clinical trial enrollment during initial treatment averages only 3% to 4%, versus nearly 60% for pediatric populations. This lag stems largely from AYA patients’ distinct needs related to shifting personal relationships, employment, and education, often resulting in a gap in medical care. The problem is further compounded by clinical care that is characterized by frequently fragmented and non-age-appropriate services. When combined, these problems often manifest as an increased likelihood of misdiagnosis or late-stage diagnosis, as well as suboptimal adherence to treatment and follow-up plans.

A key initiative of the new program is to create a central AYA database into which each patient’s diagnostic-, therapeutic-, and outcome-related data will be automatically entered and then tracked and updated long-term by a case manager. The program is also planning to create a biorepository for patients’ tumors and other biological materials. In addition, AYA-specific clinical trials will be designed for the most common cancers affecting this population.

In an effort to meet the physical, emotional, and psychosocial needs of those in this age group, team leaders and nurse facilitators will coordinate each patient’s experience from diagnosis, to treatment, and on to recovery, ensuring that needs are met effectively and efficiently. To this end, patients will be offered a variety of AYA-specific services, including fertility preservation/ family planning, genetic counseling, education, employment and financial counseling, referral to AYA survivor and/or cancer-specific support groups, physical and occupational therapy, nutritional assessment and counseling, legal assistance, and psychological counseling.

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