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Promise and Progress - Meet Phil Dennis
Issue No. 2013
Meet Phil Dennis
Date: January 3, 2013
The Kimmel Cancer Center at Bayview
Phillip Dennis, M.D., Ph.D., is the new Director of the Bayview Campus of the Kimmel Cancer Center where he is creating a Thoracic Cancer Center of Excellence. He is a seasoned clinician and investigator who, before coming to the Kimmel Cancer Center, had served as director of the NCI/Navy Oncology Clinic at the National Naval Medical Center and was a senior investigator at the National Cancer Institute, where he was the recipient of the Alton Ochsner Award Relating Tobacco and Health. Dennis shared his vision for the Bayview campus.
When does the new Bayview clinic open and what can patients expect?
My plan is to take the Kimmel Cancer Center’s Bayview program from a community hospital to a fully participating academic arm of Johns Hopkins. We expect the clinical areas to open in the Spring of 2013. They will include a medical oncology treatment area overlooking a beautiful garden with 22 infusion chairs and private exam rooms, and a radiation oncology treatment area with two linear accelerators. We will have a multidisciplinary lung cancer clinic to bring together for patients, in one clinic, all of the specialties involved in the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer. What makes our clinic particularly unique is its focus on cancer prevention in addition to cancer treatment.
What is your strategy for cancer prevention?
The Kimmel Cancer Center Bayview campus will have a dedicated center for cancer prevention to balance the need to take care of patients with established cancers with an effort to identify and help people at risk. There are tens of millions of Americans who are at permanent increased risk of developing lung cancer because of a prior or current history of smoking. Screening for early lung cancer using low-dose spiral CT scans save lives, and we plan to provide this screening for people with a history of smoking, but we are also taking it a step further and planning interventions for people with premalignant nodules.
Nodules (small abnormal spots on the lung) are identified in about 30 percent of heavy smokers who have spiral CT scans. Lung nodules are quite common, particularly in smokers, but they are not always cancer. We have developed a nodule clinic in collaboration with the Pulmonology Department to monitor and manage people with nodules discovered through spiral CT. We will develop protocols and test prevention strategies that we hope will keep nodules from progressing to lung cancer. The Kimmel Cancer Center Bayview team will be among the very first in the world to use screening as a research tool. With our Center’s depth of expertise in the genetic and epigenetic causes of cancer, we can make inroads in prevention that are not being done anywhere else. We will take an at-risk population and personalize lung cancer risk assessment and prevention. People with precancerous lesions will have the opportunity to participate in intervention trials that target molecular and cellular changes that this research shows can lead to lung cancer in future years with the aim of reversing the process.
Does this work increase our understanding of lung cancer?
Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. By bringing these people in to the Hopkins system, we will be able to better understand tobacco exposure and lung cancer risk, genetic features, and family history. We can begin to make progress by studying and evaluating treatments that target the very earliest, premalignant changes that lead to lung cancer—take out a cancer before it actually is a cancer. I think we have the opportunity to make unprecedented strides against lung cancer.