SPARTA, NJ – For more than five years residents of Sparta and surrounding towns have been able to receive cutting edge cancer care without leaving their community. It is one of those things people do not like to think about but when a loved one is seriously ill, it can be a comfort to know there is a place close to home where they can be treated.
Sparta resident Dr May Matkiwsky is a partner in Regional Cancer Care Associates, located right in town on Sparta Avenue. RCCA is a network of facilities across the state and in Delaware that offer patients care in the areas of hematology and oncology including access to treatments in clinical trials, in immunotherapies where appropriate.
Matkiwsky sees patients referred by primary care doctors for follow up specialized care for benign and malignant blood disorders, ranging from anemia to leukemia, as well as breast and lung cancer, “two of the most common cancers affecting NJ residents.” The community setting allows Dr Matkiwsky her partner Dr. Bohdan Halibey and Associate Dr Jumana Chatiwalla to customize care to the patients’ needs.
As part of the network’s research department Matkiwsky is able to offer patients cutting edge therapies through clinical trials in immunotherapies for lung cancer.
Immunotherapy seeks to support the body’s own immune system to fight off cancer cells. Typically, when a foreign body such as a virus enters the body, the immune system works to kill it off. Cancer cells however, are able to shield themselves and hide from the body’s immune system. These new therapies or “agents” work by, helping the immune system find and fight the cancer cells, keeping the cancer cells from shutting off or masking the body’s natural defenses and allowing the immune system to do its job.
Since these types of therapies rely on the body’s own immune system there are typically fewer side effects than traditional therapies. Traditional chemotherapies are currently used as “first line therapies” but they are cytotoxic, meaning they kill off all cells. That is what causes the side effects associated with chemotherapy such as hair loss, nausea, lesions or sores in the mouth and other issues.
Immunotherapies are being looked at to treat breast, renal or kidney, gastric, skin and many other tumor types of cancers, as a first line treatment or following chemo-therapy or in combination.
Immunotherapies have already been approved by the FDA to treat certain types of advanced lung cancers, melanomas, kidney cancers and blood cancers. Matkiwsky explained treatment for patients presenting with stage four lung cancers could range from doing nothing because the side effects are too traumatic for someone already very sick, to first line therapies and now include immunotherapy.
Opdivo, a Bristol-Myers Squibb agent, was the first immuno-therapy to received approval by the FDA in 2014 for the treatment of lung cancer.
Choosing treatment, the therapy would be individualized based on the specific make-up of the tumor as determined by a biopsy.
“We are excited to be able to provide these therapies to our patients,” said Matkiwsky in an interview. She has a “number of patients” using these therapies and is “very pleased with the results.” The patients themselves now even come to Matkiwski seeking the treatments.
“Information about different therapies is available to everyone now,” said Matkiwsky. “It is really wonderful.”
She explained that in the past it would be unusual to have advanced lung cancer patients survive past a year but now they are not only living longer but with a better quality of life. “We are now getting data two years out for late-stage lung cancer patients and even longer for melanoma patients,” said Matkiwsky.
While treatment is a major part of what she does, Matkiwsky is passionate about prevention and early detection. “We have access to several kinds of [smoking] cessation programs,” recognizing stopping smoking is key.
They can also offer patients the option of “low dose CAT scan trials,” to identify lesions before they progress to a more advanced cancer. “People can call the office and leave a message or talk with any nurse about getting more information,” said Matkiwsky
The low dose CAT scanning trials are available through the Atlantic Health System, and can be further researched on Atlantic Heath System's website.
Matkiwsky explained while many patients go get other opinions elsewhere at the “big name” hospitals, they come back for treatment. She “supports patients seeking opinions and information.” Knowing they provide comprehensive care, personalized treatment and access quality, cutting edge treatment “it makes a difference to get treated in their own community. We provide quality care, close to home,” she said.