Dr. Ibrahim Sbeitan
Medical Director of the Conemaugh Cancer Care Center.
Q: A team approach is used at Memorial for treating Brain Tumors – why is that?
A: Cancer of the brain or brain tumors are difficult tumors to handle. You need a whole team of specialized people to take care of that. So, it’s a multidisciplinary approach where multiple specialties will meet and treat that patient. So it starts from diagnosing these patients. You have to have good MRI machines, highly qualified surgeons, radiation oncologists, new techniques in radiation and newer approaches and, of course, the medical oncologist. So multiple, highly specialized physicians; many of them will meet and perform the plan to treat patients with brain tumors.
We have a, we have a specialized board to discuss these patients in advance. We plan the treatment where all the disciplines are involved. So it’s a team approach and this is, we feel, the best way of treating cancer patients.
Q: Have there been any recent breakthroughs in medical oncology?
A: Cancer is not a death sentence anymore. People with cancer are surviving their cancers, doing very well. There are plenty of treatments available. There has been tremendous explosion in knowledge, newer treatments in cancer in general and this will continue on for quite a few years. So right now the aim is to cure patients. If we cannot cure them then the aim is to control their disease and that’s what we have been doing.
Q: Are you excited by the progress you are seeing?
A: Absolutely. Over the past ten years there have been tremendous improvements in the treatments. There are more treatments available for more cancers. Patients are doing extremely well these days.
Q: How have the treatments improved?
A: The treatment these days are quite different from the old chemotherapy. People are not getting very sick. Most of the treatments are done as an outpatient. Most of the patients will not actually see the hospital. Most of them, they come, they get treated, they go back home, they go back to their work. They are very functional. Treatments have evolved over the years from a very aggressive --- from a treatment that made people sick to a treatment today that is hardly is making them sick.
Today’s treatments are very specific. As we know more about the tumors right now, more about the cancers, there’s genetic evolution. We started targeting certain receptors on the tumor cells. We started targeting the genes of the cancer cells and this treatment is fancy treatment but with excellent outcomes. So the current generation and the future generation of treatments are different from the older one with much better outcomes.
Q: What do you think the future holds for patients with cancer?
A: I believe that during my time, in the coming few years, that patients with cancer will come in and will enjoy a very good life with the cancer being controlled, minimal side effects from the treatments, and the suffering from cancer in general will be gone.
Q: What is happening with Gene Therapy?
A: Over the past decades there have been tremendous investment in cancer research and we understood more and more about cancer. We realized that cancer cells are mutated cells and there have been some genetic evolution and mutations. We discovered some receptors on the cancer cells that feed the cancers. So specific targeted treatment were made and developed to target these receptors and these genes and so far those have been very successful in increasing the response rate, and putting tumors into remission.
This is applied in almost every cancer starting from the breast cancer to lung cancer, leukemia and so on. So this treatment is complicated. It’s very simple though to provide and give to patients and doesn’t make patients sick. Outcomes are very good as well.
Q: What do you think about the quality of cancer treatment in this area?
A: I always encourage my patients to go outside and get a second opinion for them to realize that there’s nothing else can be offered outside Conemaugh Health System and whatever can be provided at any big institution can be provided over here. Patients do realize that, and most importantly they appreciate the family atmosphere that we provide here at Conemaugh Health System.
Q: You recently added another medical oncologist, Dr. Hassan Bit, what expertise does he bring to the team?
A: Dr. Bit is a well established oncologist. He is very experienced and he will help us in improving the quality of care and taking care of the high load of patients. As I told you earlier, patients are surviving their cancers, and they’ll go on to live, they’ll go on to live their usual lives. Because we have such good treatment people are surviving their tumors. This resulted in high volume of patients that need to be taken care of and adding Dr. Bit will help us in relieving that volume as well as his expertise in certain cancers is very well appreciated.
Q: What is Gliasite Radiation Therapy?
A: Treating cancer is a multi-disciplinary approach. You have multiple specialties meeting together. Each specialty will provide the best care that they could provide. Gliasite is a new radiation technique and it’s very helpful in certain patients that meet the criteria. It allows us to provide such a high volume of radiation with minimal side effects. So the outcomes are really good and we started doing this since Dr. Bowles came into town. We are very happy that we are able to provide that. A lot of hospitals our size do not provide that.
Q: Can people do anything to prevent cancer?
A: There are cancers that we can screen for and everybody should be screened for. So, cancer of the prostate, breast, colon are a must and every person should go through their age appropriate screening for these cancers. We are seeing more early cancers and this is a reflection of an early intervention, early screening, early pickup, which is good but we are still seeing advanced cancers as well.
Some cancers we cannot catch them earlier, unfortunately. Some cancer they will present and they will be advanced. Typically lung cancer at presentation is advanced. There is no screening test for brain tumors. People present with headaches or a problem, then we find that they have a brain tumor. So some we are able to screen for and others, we are not.
Q: Does family history play a big part in Cancer?
A: Most cancers are sporadic, meaning that they just happen. Some cancers tend to cluster in families. Those could be what we call familial cancers or hereditary cancers. It depends on the cancer itself. Typically, around 10 to 15 percent of the cancers of the breast are hereditary in nature. They run in families. The same are on 10 to 15 percent for that of colon cancer. So if patients meet certain criteria then we would have to screen the whole family and do an early intervention. So typically oncologists look for that family history.
Q: How has the treatment of cancer, in general, evolved?
A: Over the years treatment for brain tumors have evolved and it’s much better right now than before. The exciting thing about brain tumors is that there are a lot of genetic treatments, genetic based treatments, what we call targeted treatments. Treatment that targets, what we call, the Signal Transduction or the Gene Expression, treatment that targets the blood supply to the tumors. All these treatments are fancy, newer treatments with excellent outcomes, minimal side effects. So I believe that patients, my patients are receiving this treatment right now, and I think that in the near future we will have more and more treatments available.
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