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Eric Rosenthal Reports

Thoughts and observations about issues, trends, and controversies in the cancer community.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


Stand Up to Cancer’s (SU2C) fourth live one-hour commercial-free telecast (Sept. 5, 8-9 pm ET/PT) has been expanded to include four Canadian broadcast networks, which will feature Canada-specific cancer content.


The biannual fundraising special has traditionally aired from Hollywood since the first one in 2008, and in past years many celebrities have been said to be unable to attend because of a conflict with the Toronto International Film Festival, held at the same time.


But talks that began in spring 2013 between the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF), the nonprofit philanthropic arm of the film and television industry that sponsors SU2C, and Canadian broadcasters resulted in a collaborative effort to tailor the telecast to include cancer information of interest to a Canadian audience.


Tom Hudson, MD, President and Scientific Director of the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, said during a telephone interview that cancer has eclipsed heart disease as the leading cause of death in Canada.


And according to the Canadian Cancer Society, this year more than 191,000 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in Canada, and more than 76,000 Canadians will die of the disease. Canadian statistics show that prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among men (24% of cases); breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women (26%); and lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women.


Earlier this week all of Canada’s English language broadcast networks (CBC, City, CTV, and Global) announced at a news conference in Toronto an “unprecedented collaboration” to simultaneously air the Stand Up program with ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and numerous other U.S. cable channels.


Speaking at the event were SU2C Canada celebrity “ambassadors” Dan Aykroyd, Kyle MacLachlan, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson.


The Sept. 5 telecast will originate from Los Angeles with cutaways to a live event in Toronto featuring actors participating in the Toronto film festival, Canadian broadcasters, and representatives from health-related charities, government-funded organizations, and industry. The Canadian version will also include cancer information and statistics specific to Canadian audiences.


The SU2C program will be executive produced by Joel Gallen, President of Tenth Planet Productions, and actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who will plan the show’s content in conjunction with the U.S.-based SU2C’s in-house production team.


To help enable Canadian participation, EIF Canada was established to conduct charitable programs in Canada addressing health issues, an EIF official explained. As a Canadian registered charity, the entity will permit contributors in Canada to receive tax-deductible receipts.


Donations raised through the Canadian outlets will fund Canadian Dream Teams, multidisciplinary translational cancer research teams, as well as educational and awareness programs that will include collaboration from various major Canadian organizations such as the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, with funding from the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce; the Canadian Cancer Society; the Cancer Stem Cell Consortium, with funding from Genome Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research; and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. Current corporate supporters of SU2C Canada are MasterCard and AstraZeneca Canada.


Hudson said that requests for research proposals would be issued by SU2C Canada following the telecast, and would be reviewed by a SU2C Canada Scientific Advisory Committee co-chaired by Alan Bernstein, OC, PhD, FRSC, President and CEO of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research; and Nobel Laureate Phillip A. Sharp, PhD, Institute Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who heads the original SU2C’s Scientific Advisory Committee.


EIF Canada expects to announce the new Dream Teams sometime during spring 2015, Hudson said.


He said that although it is premature to determine the areas of research for the Canadian Dream Teams, there is a need for innovative cancer prevention research, as well as work in cancer stem cells, and certain site-specific cancers including breast, pancreatic, and viral cancers. He noted that 33 Canadian cancer researchers are already involved in Dream Teams fielded through the U.S. initiative.


“I first became aware of SU2C at the American Association for Cancer Research’s 2010 Washington DC annual meeting when I wanted to hear the session dealing with the Dream Team’s efforts, but unfortunately was unable to get into the [totally filled] room,” he said, adding that whatever skepticism he might have had about the initiative was dismissed when he had opportunities to interact with the scientists, including Phillip Sharp; Daniel Von Hoff, MD; and Charles Sawyers, MD.


Pamela Fralick, President and CEO of the Canadian Cancer Society, said during a telephone interview that she considers that her organization has “a moral and ethical imperative to use science to treat hard-to-treat cancers and those not being looked at,” and that she hopes prevention research will be a major focus of the Canadian Dream Teams.


Cancers particularly needing more research in Canada, she said, are brain, lung, colorectal, esophageal, pancreatic, and ovarian.


SU2C Senior Vice President for Business Development Tom Chiodo said he has great respect for the level of collaboration he has observed in Canada, noting: “There is no exclusivity when it comes to cancer.”


He said that in the past Canadians had been able to view the Hollywood telecast through some Canadian networks as well as the U.S. networks broadcasting in Canada, but Canadian broadcasters felt there was a need for cancer content more exclusive to their audiences.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The American Association for Cancer Research has a new logo and revamped website ( The logo for the first time now also includes a tagline: “Finding Cures Together.”


The change was made, AACR CEO Marge Foti, PhD, noted in an interview, because the association’s mission of working to prevent and cure cancer through research, education, communication, and collaboration is now taking place on a global stage and it is necessary “to open the door wider to let in more ideas, more partners, and more donations in order to achieve more progress and save more lives.”


Although the changes, which AACR is calling a rebranding, were officially launched this morning, the new logo and website went live on Saturday and the Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, and YouTube pages incorporated the new look starting yesterday morning. The updates are also part of an overall public awareness and fundraising campaign to support cancer research, planned for the fall, she said.


Regarding the tagline, Foti explained, the specific choice of "Finding Cures Together" is meant to convey “the essential collaboration between the AACR, our research partners around the world, the AACR Foundation, and the funding public as we work together with urgency to prevent and cure all cancers.”


Moreover, “Finding” is meant to convey action, that “we are doing it already”; “Cures” was purposely used as a plural to show there are many cancers; and “Together” emphasizes the importance of collaboration across many sectors of the cancer community, including academia, industry, government, survivorship and advocacy groups, other organizations, and AACR’s own members.


She said the new logo was tested by focus groups and replaces the one used since 2000, which was a more modern version of an earlier one that featured Latin text and a lamp of learning.

The 2000 version featured an incomplete “R,” meant to convey that most cancers have still not been cured.


In the new logo, the “R” is extended into the “C” to reflect a link between research and the goal of eradicating cancer. Moreover, the color used is green, meant to connote hope, life, and growth.

The new website is the first of two versions, Foti said, with this first one aimed primarily at cancer research professionals and the cancer community. The plan is to launch a parallel one this fall designed specifically for the public, related to the AACR Foundation site, which also unveiled a new look over the weekend (


Foti said that AACR hopes its new brand identity and websites will increase public education and awareness about the importance of basic laboratory and prevention research, and encourage individuals to support the effort through financial contributions, especially at this time when federal funding is down.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014



One month following the death of Vital Options International (VOI) Founder and CEO Selma R. Schimmel from malignant psoas syndrome -- a complication of the recurrent ovarian cancer diagnosis for which she was undergoing treatment -- I spoke with Schimmel’s sister, Debby Bitticks, about the future of the Los Angeles-area-based not-for-profit cancer communications organization that was uniquely identified through its unforgettable patient advocate founder.


Bitticks said that following approval by VOI’s Board of Directors last week, the organization will continue with her as President and Chair of its Board, and Terry Wilcox as Executive Director.


Previously, Bitticks had been serving as Board Chair with Wilcox as Creative Director under Schimmel’s leadership.


“Following Selma’s death I was so taken with the number of people who contacted me throughout the world about how Selma had helped them, that I felt a huge commitment to continue her legacy,” Bitticks said.


She said that the organization would be honoring all of its commitments throughout 2014, including producing an Advocacy in Action program at the European Society for Medical Oncology’s annual meeting at the end of September in Madrid, and would begin planning and seeking funding for 2015.


“There are no guarantees in life, but I will do everything possible to protect my sister’s legacy and continue her work,” she said, adding that if VOI was unable to continue its mission alone, it might seek a future merger with appropriate international groups.


Bitticks noted that Schimmel died at age 59, the same age that both their mother and maternal grandmother died from ovarian cancer. 


Schimmel had started her advocacy career as a young breast cancer survivor who was diagnosed at age 28, and years later learned that she was BRCA1 positive. 


This prompted additional family testing, said Bitticks, who also tested positive and had breast cancer later in life, causing her to contact her cousins, the offsprings of her mother’s two brothers -- “Two of them were also positive and planned prophylactic oophorectomies and double mastectomies,” she said.


A celebration of Schimmel’s life is scheduled for August 10 in Studio City, Calif.  The event is free and open to the public. Further information will be available next week at

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Less than seven months before the American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer’s (CoC) survivorship care plan is scheduled to become a requirement for certification of some 1,500 member cancer centers and hospitals across the country, OT has learned that both the CoC and American Society of Clinical Oncology are revisiting the requirement since many institutions have been having trouble complying.


In 2012 the Commission on Cancer issued three to-be-phased-in patient-centered standards that had to be instituted by January 1, 2015 for accreditation.


According to CoC officials, members have been making headway on the patient navigation and psychosocial distress management mandates, but have been less successful getting ready to implement meaningful survivorship care plans.


Last month I reported that a recent Journal of Clinical Oncology study found that despite the nine-year-old recommendation by the Institute of Medicine that cancer patients completing primary treatment receive a survivorship care plan, only about five percent of oncologists are actually providing them.


That prompted me to contact Daniel P. McKellar, MD, CoC Chair, to see whether he would be available to meet at this year’s ASCO Annual Meeting to discuss progress to date with compliance. We arranged to meet at the Commission’s Chicago-based headquarters, along with M. Asa Carter, CTR, Manager of Accreditation and Standards for CoC’s Division of Research and Optimal Patient Care; and Erica J. McNamara, MPH, National Cancer Database Information Analyst.



Late last summer the CoC surveyed 1,390 of its member programs on their readiness to implement the three Continuum of Care Standards (3.1-3.3), as well as the perceived barriers for implementation and the preferred outlets for accessing resources to aid programs in implementing these standards.


The surveys were sent to registrars and psychosocial representatives at each CoC program. In addition to the CoC, survey sponsors included the LIVESTRONG Foundation, American Cancer Society, Cancer Support Community, and National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship. About half of those receiving the survey responded, with 71 percent representing community-based programs.


Regarding standard 3.1, the Patient Navigation Process, 54 percent of respondents reported they are addressing the entire standard that deals with health care disparities and barriers to care.


More than 58 percent of the programs said they are fully addressing Standard 3.2, which involves developing and implementing a process to integrate and monitor on-site psychosocial screening and referral.


However, only 40 percent of CoC programs thought they would be able to meet Standard 3.3, which requires an institution’s cancer committee to develop and implement a process for disseminating a comprehensive care summary and follow-up plan to cancer patients completing treatment.


During the discussion at CoC headquarters, CoC staff summarized these results as: [Member institutions were doing] “well with navigation, better with psychosocial distress, but were really struggling with survivorship care plans.”



They explained that centers were complaining about the amount of work needed to meet the standard in a meaningful way, and Carter added that there were also complications because of varying institutional definitions of when cancer survivorship begins.


The results showed that concerns were also voiced by centers that although reimbursement was available for a patient visit related to a survivorship plan, no payment was made for the time required to put the information into the system.

“The available tools haven’t quite met up with the standards,” said McKellar, who is also Director of the Cancer Program at Wayne HealthCare in Greenville, Ohio. “You have to earn accreditation, you can’t just buy it,” he added.


McNamara noted that institutions can build a survivorship care plan from cancer registries or electronic medical records, and can use the American College of Surgeons’ Rapid Quality Reporting System (RQRS), a data quality tool available to CoC accredited cancer programs.


There is currently a LIVESTRONG Care Plan pilot project under way at both the University of Pennsylvania’s Abramson Cancer Center and Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis to create a program for instituting survivorship plans, according to the CoC. Lawrence N. Shulman, MD, Chair of CoC’s Quality Integration Committee, is serving as an advisor.


The Penn team -- led by James Metz, MD, Editor-in Chief of OncoLink, and Linda A. Jacobs, PhD, RN, Director of Abramson’s LIVESTRONG Survivorship Center of Excellence Living Well After Cancer Program – will, among other things, translate cancer registry codes into information that patients can easily understand.


Baptist Memorial’s role is to generate electronic information through cancer registry data and electronic medical records. The principal investigator is Stephen B. Edge, MD, Director of Baptist’s Cancer Center, and Immediate Past-chair of the CoC. Edge began the work when he was at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.


The CoC team would not say whether the survivorship care plan deadline might be extended, as had happened with the rollout of ObamaCare.


However, when I followed up with Shulman by telephone at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute—where he is Chief of Staff, Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs, and Director of Regional Strategy Development and Director of the Center for Global Medicine--several days after the conclusion of the ASCO meeting, he said that ASCO and the CoC had just decided to reevaluate the survivorship care plan standards.


Shulman, who had previously chaired ASCO’s Quality Committee, and been involved in a survivorship summit convened by the Society last fall, said that with recent concerns about what “can be and should be done” regarding implementing the standards by the January 1 deadline, ASCO had created an ad hoc committee with representatives from both its Quality and Survivorship committees to better define the survivorship standards.


“They are not as clearly defined as they could be to give hospitals guidance, and ASCO felt that it needed to go back to the drawing board for recommendations that will be feasible in the context of practice and of value to patients,” he said.


He said that CoC would review ASCO’s recommendations before making any further decisions.




This is the first in a series of articles about the implementation of the Commission on Cancer’s Survivorship Care Plan standard.



Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Selma Schimmel died earlier today from cancer, the disease that defined her life and career for more than 30 years since founding Vital Options at age 28 after being diagnosed with breast cancer several years after her mother’s death from ovarian cancer. 


She was 59 and suffered several recurrences related to both breast and ovarian cancers.


As a then-young woman who hadn’t been taken seriously about symptoms she feared might be breast cancer, she went on to start what she believed to be the first organization dedicated to young adults with cancer, as well as The Group Room, a nationally syndicated radio talk show about cancer.


Selma dedicated her life to reaching out to everyone touched by cancer, and in 1998 during the opening press briefing at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Annual Meeting, held that year in Los Angeles, her hometown, she asked me if I’d like to join her organization as senior correspondent and news director.


For the next six years we traveled the country and the world as she broadcast information and hope, and provided psychosocial support to countless radio listeners who’d tune in each Sunday for two hours to hear her speak with experts and survivors about various aspects of cancer.


Working with Selma could often be taxing, but her total dedication to helping others made it understandable, and we remained close friends over these many years.


I had hoped to see Selma again next week at ASCO. Now, instead, I look forward to sharing memories of her with our many mutual friends in the cancer community.


May she rest in peace and her legacy live on.