Santa Monica, Calif. — Q. Being a cancer specialist as a surgeon with a background in cancer research, what do you see as the prognosis for cancer patients?
A. By Gagandeep Singh, M.D., surgeon and director of the liver and pancreatic cancer surgery program, John Wayne Cancer Institute at Saint John’s Health Center
I view the future in a positive way. Before my surgical training, I spent a few years in the lab seeking a genetic cure for cancer. I was instrumental in developing the suicide gene therapy protocols, which showed immense promise. It worked great in the lab but didn’t translate well to humans. I realized we were a long ways away from finding that absolute answer to curing cancer. Since becoming a surgeon, I’ve focused my energy in the clinical world.
I don’t believe that there will be one magic bullet, no single therapy that will cure cancer. At least for the next 10- 15 years, we’ll still be looking at a multi-modality approach to treatment. It’s not surgery alone or chemotherapy alone that is the answer. To achieve a cure, we’ll have to find a treatment that blocks multiple pathways. Trying to stop cancer is like trying to stop cars traveling on a freeway. You can block off one freeway, but the drivers find alternate surface routes and other freeways to get to their destination. Cancer cells resemble very determined drivers.
Looking to the future, let’s take pancreatic cancer for example of the progress being made. When someone develops pancreatic cancer, people unfortunately tend to say “Oh no, this is it.” But with the right surgical and oncological team to treat the disease, people don’t have to give up. As a surgeon who specializes in surgeries of the liver, pancreas, and gastrointestinal areas, I have gained enough experience and confidence to be fairly sure I can remove the tumor. And as long as I can get a clear margin, I’m giving the patient a survival advantage. When we complement that with chemotherapy and possibly radiation, we can really extend the survival of someone with pancreatic cancer significantly.
At the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Saint John’s Health Center, we’re doing basic research with scientists, collaborating to come up with alternative strategies all the time. I’m able to bring my understanding of the molecular world to the clinical world, blend my scientific knowledge with my surgical skills, and I’m looking forward to the next 10 to 15 years as very bright for the patient with cancer.
Gagandeep Singh, M.D., is a surgeon and the director of the liver and pancreatic cancer surgery program at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Saint John’s Health Center. For more information about Dr. Singh and other Saint John’s services, please call (310) 829-8990 or visit the website at www.stjohns.org. For a physician referral or a second opinion, please call 1-888-ASK-SJHC.
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