GRACE :: Radiation Oncology
Dr West

Dr West


Dr. West attended Princeton University before heading to the University of Cambridge on a Fulbright Scholarship. He then returned to the US to attend Harvard Medical School, where he was honored as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Research Fellow. He did his internship and residency training at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston before moving to Seattle for his specialty training at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center/University of Washington, where he served on faculty after completing his fellowship in medical oncology. Since that time, he has fused his commitment to patient care at Swedish Cancer Institute in Seattle, focusing on thoracic and genitourinary oncology with a commitment to clinical research as well as entrepreneurial ventures. While overseeing a cancer clinic that draws patients from all over the world, he offers a wide array of clinical trials and leads several, including serving as Principal Investigator of several phase II national trials with the Southwest Oncology Group. He has emerged as a very rare oncologist based in a private practice setting yet remains a nationally to internationally recognized expert, thought leader, speaker and writer. Dr. West has also pioneered many new ventures that exercise his interests in social media, new educational platforms, and even marketing. He founded Go West Health Care Consulting in 2004, which has flourished into a very successful company that enabled him to pursue roles in developing of a wide range of oncology products, lead dozens of pharmaceutical advisory boards, speak and write for professional and patient oriented audiences, help in developing educational and marketing materials, serve as a medical director for a CME company, and even work as the dedicated oncology consultant to a large marketing agency. He is widely recognized as an oncologist who understands the complex market forces from scientific background to commercial development strategies to current and future practical market forces within the oncology space – the only oncologist who has delivered a TEDx presentation and attends not only ASCO but TEDMED, South by SouthWest interactive, and the American Telemedicine Association’s annual conference. Finally, recognizing that patients and caregivers are a remarkably underutilized resource and critical voice in medical decision-making, Dr. West developed OncTalk.com in 2006 as a mechanism to provide very timely, specialized free information about cancer directly to a global patient community. This effort transitioned to become the nonprofit Global Resource for Advancing Cancer Education (GRACE) (www.cancerGRACE.org) in 2007, which has continued to grow rapidly, now integrating participation from many expert physicians and other health care specialists and reaching tens of thousands of people in over 130 countries each month. His efforts have provided expert content in a wide range of formats, including blog posts, audio and video podcasts, and an interactive discussion forum that have led to his being recognized as an international leader in the growing role of the educated patient as a means of shaping medical care and ultimately improving patient outcomes. “You are truly a Godsend -- I am thankful for the support and compassion you offer people throughout the world. I appreciate it more than words can convey.” —GRACE Member Linda P.
Dr West

Can a drug reduce risk of cognitive side effects from whole brain radiation therapy?

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Last week, I wrote a post highlighting a relatively new blog and a review article about whole brain radiation therapy (WBRT) by my friend, Moffitt Cancer Center-based radiation oncologist Dr. Jacob Scott.   I found the review article to be among the very best I’ve ever encountered on this very important subject, but it only made passing reference to an important trial called RTOG (for Radiation Therapy Oncology Group) 0614, which randomized patients to WBRT with or without the agent memantine (Namenda), a medication for Alzheimer’s disease.  Memantine works by blocking glutamate receptors in the brain, which can excite brain cells, but at high levels of transmission, the effect can be harmful on memory formation and brain function.  Radiation oncologists developed the study to ask whether the this agent that can have a (modestly) beneficial effect on cognitive function on Alzheimer’s disease might also be beneficial in reducing cognitive deficits in patients who undergo WBRT.

I asked Dr. Scott for his thoughts on the recently reported preliminary results of the RTOG 0614 trial, which was among the most important results presented at the big radiation oncology conference in October of last year, called ASTRO (American Society for Radiation Oncology — I think the T is sometimes said to abbreviate “Therapeutic”, sometimes acknowledged as gratuitous to make an elegant abbreviation).  As described in a very nice follow-up post by Dr. Scott, the results suggested a borderline statistically significant result, with a p value just above our magic threshold of 0.05 that makes us more convinced that it should change our practice patterns.  

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Dr West

Great review article on whole brain radiation therapy, highly recommended

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  Dr. Jacob Scott, a friend who is a radiation oncologist at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, FL wrote a terrific review article on whole brain radiation therapy (WBRT) that is available to the general public.  Though written for physicians, I would say that the language is accessible enough that patients and caregivers can also understand most or all of it and would find it very helpful. It covers the historical development of WBRT as a standard therapy for brain metastases, the evidence on acute and longer term side effects, the questions on how it should be integrated with stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS), and studies of adding systemic therapies with WBRT.  Since these questions come up very often, I would recommend this article as a great source of information.

   As a bit of colorful background, I met the talented and very interesting Dr. Scott at TEDMED last year, where he spoke eloquently on his recommendation for the changing role of doctors in a new era of medicine.  At that meeting, we had a very enjoyable discussion where we learned that not only was he from Cleveland like me, but he attended the same school, where his mother was also a teacher…and in fact she was my kindergarten teacher.  I know…wild. You can’t make this stuff up.


Dr West

Is it safe to give Tarceva with whole brain radiation for lung cancer patients with brain metastases?

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This question of the safety of giving Tarceva (erlotinib) along with brain radiation comes up in our clinics.  In general, cancer docs tend to be conservative about giving anti-cancer therapies concurrent with brain radiation unless we have a good sense of its safety.  This video talks about the question and the findings from a series of 40 patients from MD Anderson who provide an answer that can help guide us in the future.


Dr West

Brief Video: Systemic Therapy Alternative to Radiation for Multiple Brain Metastases?

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In most situations where a patient is diagnosed with multiple brain metastases in the setting of a new lung cancer, the recommended treatment will be radiation, often whole brain radiation (WBR).  But even if that’s the general rule, there are sometimes cases in which there’s good reason to consider making an exception.  Here’s my brief discussion of a case scenario in which I consider it a strong option to try systemic therapy before initiating brain radiation, and why I consider it to be an exception:

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Dr West

The full series of podcasts from Dr. Mehta’s webinar on radiation oncology developments in lung cancer

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Here’s the links to each of the six parts of the podcast series by Dr. Vivek Mehta, radiation oncology expert, on emerging new technological developments and techniques for improving radiation therapy in lung cancer. 

Part 1: Radiation Therapy — A Historical Perspective

Part 2: The Rationale for Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT)

Part 3: Early Successes and Open Questions with SBRT

Part 4: Defining a Role for SBRT in Lung Cancer

Part 5: New Technologies in Radiation for Lung Cancer

Part 6: Moving New Approaches into Metastatic Lung Cancer


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