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Sarcoma Awareness Q&A with Hari Deshpande, MD

June 30, 2022

As we honor Sarcoma Awareness month, what do you want our patients and families to pause and remember?

Sarcoma is a rare cancer - one that many people have not even heard of. For patients who have been diagnosed with sarcomas and also their families, it can be even more difficult to deal with this type of disease compared to other malignancies that we treat at Smilow Cancer Hospital and our Care Centers. I will always remember the patients that I have treated as well as their families. Some of them have done extremely well and appear to have been cured of their disease. However, others have not done as well, and we should always remember them and attempt to always look for better treatments for cancers that are considered incurable today.

What advances have made the biggest impact in the treatment of patients with sarcoma in the last five years?

Prior to 2012, there had been very few medications approved for sarcomas. However, starting with the targeted medication pazopanib 10 years ago, we have now seen many approvals for new treatments including trabectedin, eribulin, and tazemetostat, and other targeted agents such as entrectonib and larotrectonib, and there is growing anticipation for the use of immunotherapy in specific sarcoma types. Immunotherapy has been the biggest advance in cancer treatment overall,l and it will not be long before it is approved for some types of sarcoma.

Are there any clinical trials showing promise for sarcomas?

There are many clinical trials across the country that looking at different agents for different sarcomas. One of the sarcomas that may respond to immunotherapy is called angiosarcoma. Smilow Cancer Hospital has a clinical trial that is looking at the addition of immunotherapy to chemotherapy for patients with this type of cancer. If this trial shows a good result, it may change the standard of care for this type of sarcoma. We have three other sarcoma trials that are also waiting to be approved. These are looking at treatments for desmoid tumors, leiomyosarcomas, and retroperitoneal sarcomas. We are hoping to open more local trials at Yale as well as collaborate with other academic centers on other projects.

We have trials looking at adding new medications to standard treatments for patients with Rhabdomyosarcoma, which our pediatric group is running and we are also collaborating with the pediatric oncology team on trials for other types of sarcomas.

What inspires you as an oncologist?

I am inspired by our patients and their families. I always find that I learn something from everyone I meet in my field. This includes patients and their families. They have often been given grave news about a diagnosis and treatment in many cases, and yet they are able to continue with their everyday activities and take care of their own families. I have nothing but respect for all that they do. I am also inspired by the team that I work with here at the Hospital and at Yale Cancer Center. They show compassion and dedication in either taking care of patients or looking for new treatments for patients. We have some of the best scientists and doctors working in the lab and also in clinical research here at Yale. In the outpatient clinic, we have some of the best nurses, medical assistants, and office staff who all contribute to making the patients feel a little better when they enter the outpatient clinic. 2022 will be a growth year for sarcomas at Yale. As the leader of the disease aligned research team I hope to bring new and exciting clinical trials for the patients seen here as well as improve the standard care that we give for all of our patients.

What support services are available to patients and their families?

At Smilow Cancer Hospital, we use an electronic medical record known as MyChart. This allows patients to send non-urgent messages to the provider and the teams. Urgent messages can be sent by calling the clinical secretaries. Most of the support is given by the clinic registered nurses and the medical providers. However, we also have clinical social workers who are affiliated with the sarcoma clinic and may also be able to help with some of the questions that patients and their families have. For patients going through treatments and on surveillance, we have an active nutrition staff to answer questions and develop dietary plans. For patients with severe pain, we have an excellent palliative care service who is available to help with pain management and symptom management for all of our patients. We are hoping to re-establish a support group for patients with sarcomas and soft tissue tumors.

Submitted by Eliza Folsom on June 29, 2022