Eisenhower Health's Membership in the UCSD Health Cancer Network

Featuring: Steven Plaxe, Katie Schnaser
UC San Diego Health and Eisenhower Health signed a five-year affiliation agreement to expand cancer services for residents of Coachella Valley. Starting in January 2018, as a member of the UC San Diego Health Cancer Network, patients of Eisenhower Health will have enhanced access to world-class cancer care, both at Eisenhower Lucy Curci Cancer Center and at UC San Diego Health.

Steven Plaxe, MD and Katie Schnaser, FACHE, discuss Eisenhower Health's membership in the UCSD Health Cancer Network, and how this benefits patients and their families.


Steven Plaxe, MD, is a fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and of the American College of Surgeons. He is Directorof the Division of Gynecologic Oncology and professor of Reproductive Medicine at the University of California San Diego (UCSD). Dr. Plaxe is also a member of the Cancer Prevention and ControlCommittee of NRG Oncology.

Learn more about Steven Plaxe, MD 

Katie Schnaser, FACHE, Chief Administrative Officer, Eisenhower  Lucy Curci Cancer Center , is an active Board Member of the Desert Cancer Foundation. Prior to this, Katie was the Director of Desert Regional Medical Center's Amputation Prevention Centers. She opened the two new centers in 2014 and led them to achieve Center of Excellence Awards and industry-leading quality measures. Katie has held multiple leadership roles at the Cleveland Clinic, including managing one of the country's highest volume international patient and language services departments. She also held a role as the Administrator for the health system's non-clinical support services division. Katie has consulted for New York University Hospital's international patient services and language, cultural and disability departments. Katie is a two-time graduate of the University of Southern California where she received her Bachelors in Business Administration and Masters in Health Administration. She is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives.


Bill Klaproth (Host): Eisenhower Health recently became a member of the UCSD Health Cancer Network, and here to talk with us about this new affiliation and what it means for you is Dr. Steven Plaxe, Director Eisenhower Lucy Curci Cancer Center, and Katie Schnaser, Chief Administrative Officer, Eisenhower Lucy Curci Cancer Center. Thanks to both of you for being on with us today. We appreciate it. Dr. Plaxe, let's start with you. Why was it important for a regional cancer center to affiliate with a university level program?

Dr. Steven Plaxe, MD (Guest): Well so what we find is that there are lots of patients who really would do very well with some of the innovative and really latest treatments available at comprehensive cancer centers. And so UCSD Moores Cancer Center is one of only a few say forty or forty-five comprehensive cancer centers in the country, and there are treatments and interventions that are available only at these centers. Even an excellent community cancer center like Eisenhower, they can't have all of that excellent care available on site all the time, and so by affiliating with a comprehensive cancer center like UCSD what we're able to do is bring clinical research, we're able to bring consultants, we're able to facilitate specialty care, consultative care, we're able to engage in tumor conferences and discussions with multiple experts in a number of fields that depend on each particular patient's cancer. There's a bi-directional learning experience that goes on.

And so only through affiliation through a comprehensive cancer center can we bring these important interventions and important treatments and options closer to patients where they live. Otherwise they would have to drive two and a half hours at least to get to San Diego to access these things. Now we can bring them within easy reach and a short drive of their homes.

Bill: And that is an important benefit. And Katie, this affiliation doesn't replace the diagnostic and treatment services that Eisenhower Lucy Curci Cancer Center already provides, but it augments that. Can you tell us about the additional services that you now provide that you didn't before?

Katie Schnaser (Guest): Sure, absolutely. It's quite the services. One that comes to mind initially is just our genetic counseling program, which has really developed over the last year. And it was in part really to some great donor support, but our new affiliation with UC San Diego has really ensured that we're going to have ongoing access to this service. So we have a genetic counseling team who comes down once a month and provides genetic counseling services to patients who meet that criteria, and that's something that's so important to overall cancer care, and we wouldn't necessarily have access to that without this affiliation.

And some of the other services that I think folks will be excited to hear about is that we're looking at opportunities to open various sub-specialty clinics for rare cancers where we may not have a high volume of patients who require those sub-specialty services, but if we can get some of these cancer specialists to come out here on a monthly basis to do some initial consults, we're hopeful that we can make it really a more seamless experience for patients who may require travel to UC San Diego but can now get all of their pre-procedure workup done here, as well as any post-procedure monitoring and follow-up. So that's exciting.

Dr. Plaxe I'm sure will talk a little bit more about all the new and expanded access to clinical trials and research, but that's really a big deal and a game changer for us in the Coachella Valley. The one other thing I'll touch on is just that we've started a new lecture series where we can really tap into some of the UC San Diego knowledge and talent. In March we actually did a big amino therapy lecture with Dr. Ezra Cohen, and he partnered up with some of our oncologists here, and they did a really fascinating talk on all of the benefits and uses and where we're going with amino therapy. And we have quite a few more plans this year that we'll be letting folks know about; genetic counseling and some other really exciting topics.

Bill: Well that's great, Katie, thank you. And you mentioned expanded access to clinical trials and research. Dr. Plaxe, can you tell us more about that?

Dr. Plaxe: Sure, so clinical trials are really important components of advancing cancer care. New treatments require a lot of work to develop, and refine, and perfect. All of the new drugs that are improving a patient's quality of life and survival in cancer all have to be tested, they have to be monitored closely. There's this very involved and very scrupulous process of evaluating new treatments and new drugs, and that process is a clinical trials process. And what can happen is patients who have the option to enroll on these studies of new drugs really get the first opportunity to get benefits. And clinical trials are- they take a lot of time, they take a lot of effort, and they take a lot of specialized physician care, and coordinator care, and we're fortunate that we have wonderful oncologists here, and a terrific clinical trials office, and coordinators, and nurses, all of whom are dedicated to helping patients get access to sort of the latest and greatest in cancer treatments.

And what we gain by partnering with the University Medical Center is access to a large number of these trials that may not be available anywhere else in the world. There are trials that were conceived of and initiated by UCSD oncologists that were trying out in our system. There are other trials that are conducted by pharmaceutical companies, and they are not necessarily widely available. They may only be available through the largest and most highly specialized cancer centers in the country, the comprehensive cancer centers. We will now have access to a number of those trials because we're affiliated. And then finally there are cooperative group trials which are available through several specialized cancer research groups as designated by the National Cancer Institute and such, specially funded, specially supported to really ask the important questions on oncology. And because we are becoming an affiliate member of UCSD for these cooperative clinical trials groups, we'll have enhanced access to these studies as well, as well as consultation with some of the doctors frankly who developed these latest and greatest studies.

So that clinical trials component of what we're able to offer now that we were not able to offer before the affiliation is really a big, big advantage and a great opportunity for patients in the Valley.

Bill: Well getting that valuable research and access to the clinical trials is very important. And Katie mentioned earlier the genetic counseling program. Dr. Plaxe, can you briefly touch on that a little bit, too?

Dr. Plaxe: Certainly. We are learning more and more about why people are at higher risk, or why certain people are at higher risk of developing malignant disease. That knowledge, which really started probably half a century ago, there were certain diseases that were identified to be hereditary. So that extra chromosome was an important early factor identified in certain kinds of leukemias, and there have been other syndromes in which family members are high risk for certain kinds of cancer.

As we've gone through the process of studying families, and studying groups of related patients that have cancer, we've learned about hereditary breast cancer syndromes, hereditary ovarian cancer syndromes, colon cancer syndromes, pancreas cancer syndromes, and so forth. And with rapidly developing modern genetic sequencing techniques, now we have the ability to sequence patients' genomes, find out all of the genes that didn't make up their DNA, we're identifying many more cancer syndromes and finding that a substantial proportion of malignant disease is in some way linked to your genetics. There's a very specialized field of cancer genetics that focuses on patients' predisposition. There are recommendations for what an affected family member can do to reduce the risk of either developing cancer or dying from a cancer that may be linked to their DNA. That field is growing rapidly with all of the new molecular genetic sequencing techniques that we have.

Patients can now access highly specialized oncology genetics that are available at comprehensive cancer centers. Now we have the ability to offer that kind of genetic counseling service on-site here at Eisenhower, and we've done that through the affiliation. As Katie said, once every month or so, a member of our cancer genetics team comes out and sees patients here, and gives them insights, and understanding, and knowledge about what their genetic risk is, and if they have an elevated genetic risk over that of the general population, then we talk to them about what measures they can take to preserve their good health, and also the implications for their family members because genetic disease is by definition hereditary. Findings in a patient could have implications for children, and grandchildren, and siblings, and parents, and anyone who shares the DNA. So it's really been a big advantage to have this consultative service here, and it's a growing field, and it's going to become more and more important, and we're happy to be able to offer that service on-site at Eisenhower.

Bill: Such great information, Dr. Plaxe and Katie, thank you so much for talking with us about the UCSD health cancer network affiliation. So important and such good news, and again thank you for sharing that with us. For more information visit www.EisenhowerHealth.org. That's www.EisenhowerHealth.org. This is Living Well with Eisenhower Health. I'm Bill Klaproth, thanks for listening.