Cutting-edge advances in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer were brought to the forefront on June 27th during Atlantic Health System’s “2020 Annual Review in Oncology Virtual Symposium,” an event sponsored by Atlantic Health System Cancer Care and held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Attended by nearly 160 top oncology professionals, the half-day event featured presentations by distinguished faculty from several of the Northeast’s leading cancer centers, who summarized key takeaways from the 2020 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Meeting, the world’s premier scientific meeting for clinical research in oncology.

Moderated by Missak Haigentz, MD, medical director of hematology and oncology for Atlantic Health System and principal investigator for the Atlantic Health Cancer Consortium, the only New Jersey-based National Cancer Institute Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP), highlights of the 2020 Oncology Symposium across the fields of Gastrointestinal, Thoracic, Genitourinary, and Breast include the following:

·       Gastrointestinal – “The field of colorectal cancer has been the source of a number of practice-changing studies,” shared Presenter David Ilson, MD, PhD, attending physician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.  He discussed advances in treatments known as ‘adjuvant therapy’ (regimens administered after the primary treatment to boost its effectiveness) and ‘neoadjuvant therapy’ (treatments administered before the primary cancer treatment to reduce the need for or magnitude of surgery), which have become a standard of care for many patients with colon and rectal cancers, respectively.  In addition, “as studies show that radiation continues to work over time, the administration of radiation before chemotherapy allows several months for the effects of radiation to be maximized,” Dr. Ilson noted of the importance of treatment sequencing investigation in rectal cancers.  The recent “IDEA Collaboration” study ( also revealed that a shorter course of adjuvant chemotherapy (three months versus six months) led to nearly identical survival outcomes for high-risk colorectal cancer patients.

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·       Thoracic/Lung – Presenter Hossein Borghaei, DO, MS, professor and chief of thoracic oncology and The Gloria and Edmund M. Dunn Chair in Thoracic Oncology at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, discussed multiple new treatment regimens approved by the FDA in 2020 to treat lung cancer, including the combination of nivolumab plus ipilimumab (for certain patients with metastatic or recurrent non-small cell lung cancer).  In addition, results of the “ARROW” (, “LIBRETTO” (, and “GEOMETRY” ( studies suggest that the use of the targeted drugs pralsetinib, selpercatinib, and capmatinib achieved favorable levels of tumor reduction for non-small cell lung cancer patients with mutations in their RET (pralsetinib, selpercatinib) and MET (capmatinib) biomarkers.  “Lung cancer is a very active area of research, with new targets, new approaches, and new combinations of drugs proving effective, and clinical trials will show us the way,” Dr. Borghaei said.

·       Genitourinary – Presenter Benjamin A. Gartrell, MD, director of genitourinary oncology and associate professor of the Department of Medicine (Oncology) and Urology at Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care in the Bronx, NY, revealed that “a lot of options are now available to treat castrate-resistant prostate cancer,” or prostate cancer that continues to grow despite low levels of testosterone in the body.  According to Dr. Gartrell, results of the “HERO Phase III Trial” ( reveal that the drug relugolix, an oral GnRH receptor antagonist that provides androgen deprivation and which may receive FDA approval later this year, revealed promising ability to suppress testosterone levels and trigger fewer adverse cardiovascular events versus alternate drug leuprolide.  Dr. Gartrell is also encouraged by a new approach known as ‘theranostics’ -- “the combination of a diagnostic scan followed by a therapeutic intervention involving a radiopharmaceutical, or radioactive isotope,” he said.

·       Breast – “Advances in molecular and tumor biology and identification of molecular drivers have changed the landscape of this disease and its treatment,” confirmed presenter Deborah Toppmeyer, MD, chief medical officer and chief of medical oncology and director, Stacy Goldstein Breast Cancer Center and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey in New Brunswick.  “It’s about delivering the right treatment to the right patient at the right time and in the right application.”  Dr. Toppmeyer highlighted ongoing research efforts in de-escalating treatment, including neoadjuvant endocrine therapy approaches for estrogen receptor (ER)-positive breast cancer, while the recent “TRAIN-2” clinical trial ( revealed favorable outcomes and fewer heart issues by refraining from treatment with a class of chemotherapy drugs known as anthracyclines.  “Strategic risk assessments among patients, a ‘less is more’ approach to treatment, and more targeted approaches have enabled us to make great strides in patient care,” Dr. Toppmeyer concluded.

“We’re excited to share the most cutting-edge clinical trials and outcomes impacting patient care in the field of oncology,” confirmed Dr. Haigentz of the 2020 Oncology Symposium.  “The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has recently confirmed the importance of clinical trials and the progress we’ve made in improving survival and quality of life for our patients with cancer can only happen by supporting clinical research efforts in our community.”

“The excellent treatment advances this year, as well as the strong attendance of our educational Symposium, despite COVID, are further evidence that the oncology community stands firm in its desire to conquer cancer,” Dr. Haigentz concluded.  “Through Atlantic Health System’s 2020 Annual Review in Oncology Virtual Symposium and other industry-leading efforts, we’re proud to increase awareness of novel cancer treatments, molecular targets, and approaches with practice-changing potential.”

For more information on Atlantic Health NCORP’s role in bringing cancer research to our community, visit  To learn more about Atlantic Health System’s over 100 cancer studies, visit