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Hoag Opens Orange County's Only Comprehensive Sarcoma Program

As a premier cancer center, Hoag Family Cancer Institute offers superior treatment options for diseases that affect many people, such as breast cancer and prostate cancer. But as one of Orange County’s leading cancer centers, Hoag goes well beyond that by offering help and hope for people battling rare and more difficult forms of cancer as well.

Hoag is now home to Orange County’s only comprehensive Sarcoma Program. NaderNassif, M.D., program advisor for the Hoag Sarcoma Program and fellowship trained orthopedic surgeon who specializes in orthopedic oncology, is leading the charge against this rare and complex type of cancer. Partnering with Dr. Nassif is Burton Eisenberg, M.D., Grace E. Hoag Executive Medical Director Endowed Chair, Hoag Family Cancer Institute, a fellowship trained surgical oncologist with specific expertise in soft tissue sarcomas, as well as a subspecialty group of medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgeons and a pathologist.

“What drew me to Hoag is the hospital’s forward-thinking vision,” said Nassif, who trained at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York and is the only orthopedic oncologist in Orange County. “The hospital continuously strives to provide excellent care to its patients and the Orange County community. Our new Sarcoma Program is an important element of that vision and leadership.”

What is sarcoma?

Sarcoma is a family of cancers that develop from the connective tissue of the body, including bone, muscle, blood vessels, nerves, fat and fibrous tissues. There are more than 70 subtypes of soft tissue sarcoma, which means it can occur anywhere in the body; however, it often develops in the extremities. Bone and soft tissue sarcomas are rare. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 12,000 people will be diagnosed with soft tissue sarcomas in the U.S. in 2014. Two-thirds of these occur in the limbs.

Why is specialty care necessary?

“Because sarcomas are rare, it is very important for patients to receive treatment from people with the experience and knowledge to approach these complicated and heterogeneous cancers,” Nassif said. “Patients need expert care and a team approach, which Hoag offers.”

Sarcomas are difficult to diagnose, as symptoms often only present themselves after the cancer has progressed. To provide adiagnosis, a specialist will perform a physical examination and advanced imaging studies, such as an MRI, a bone scan if it involves the bone, and a CT scan of the chest to assess if the disease has spread. A biopsy is often recommended to make the diagnosis and determine what subtype of sarcoma it is. Ultimately,surgical removal of the mass is necessary. Hoag has a specialized team of surgeons who work closely together to insure the success. Often, radiation therapy either before or after surgical removal may also be necessary. Chemotherapy may be of benefit in certain cases as well.

Hoag offers a comprehensive approach to the evaluation and treatment of sarcoma, through a multidisciplinary tumor board. At these regular meetings, experts across the spectrum of sarcoma care – such as a medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgical oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, rehabilitation specialists and a nurse navigator – review patient history, imaging and tissue slides and make collaborative decisions to ensure the best course of treatment to provide the optimal outcome for each patient on an individualized basis.

“Our board is more interdisciplinary in nature than usual, with specialized oncologic surgeons from general surgery and orthopedic surgery working very closely together to approach complex problems from different and complementary points of view,” Nassif said. “This comprehensive approach provides patients with the best possible outcome and the most innovative and advanced treatment protocols.”