• Cancer Causes, Care, and Cures Subject of HealthTech '17 Keynote Address by Dr. Craig Thompson, President & CEO, Memorial Sloan Kettering


  • Obsesity and Environmental Factors Leading Cause of Cancer Today, He Said

  • Why Don’t We Have a Cure for Cancer? Dr. Craig Thompson, president and CEO of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) began answering this multi-layered question with a staggering statistic. “Cancer isn’t just one disease – it’s as many as four hundred,” he explained at the Westchester County Association’s recent Health Tech ’17 conference on October 12, which attracted over 200 healthcare and business executives. At MSKCC, he said they have the best outcomes for cancer care because...

    ... cancer is the main focus both in terms of treatment and research. “Everyone is assigned a team here, and the team is optimized by making use of everyone’s skills.”

    Dr. Thompson, who delivered the luncheon keynote address “The Role of Specialty Hospitals in Maintaining Health and Healing Disease,” also made another important point: obesity and environmental factors are the leading causes of cancer. “Cancer is not inherited; it’s an environmental disease caused by environmental exposure to carcinogens. The biggest culprit causing cancer in the United States is obesity. The American diet of carbohydrates derived from simple sugars and unreasonable meal sizes coupled with a sedentary lifestyle equal a ticking time bomb. Reducing caloric intake reduces cancer risk.

    He recommended that we strive to maintain a diet with a caloric content of ten percent less than the current nutritional guidelines. “We know the amount of simple sugar in your diet influences cancer, but we don’t know why” he continued. “Surprisingly fat, which has been the focus of most diets for years, has no influence on cancer risk. What you didn’t know is the biggest culprit in Westchester is what you just ate. Diet and sedentary life: they are the leading cause of cancer. We didn’t know this existed 10 years ago. Carbohydrates are the driver; the second cause is meal size.”

    So Where Are We?

    According to Dr. Thompson, medicine has come a long way. In the last generation, the mortality rate from cancer has dropped twenty percent, although cancer is still the number one cause of death and hospitalization. This spot was previously held by cardiovascular disease, but there has been an explosion in the improvement of care, which equates to a 75% reduction in deaths in just one generation.

    Gastric cancer was a leading cause of death until 1930, the first year you could buy a refrigerator for your house. By changing the way food was preserved, and cutting out the carcinogens from smoking and curing, the death rate plummeted. Critical advances have also been made with cervical cancer that could potentially wipe it off the map after the discovery that almost every cervical cancer is derived from the HPV virus.

    Today’s Model

    Each and every cancer is different and has to be treated that way. When the first genome was sequenced in 2003 it took years and cost almost three billion dollars. Since the process can now be completed in under a week for approximately seven hundred dollars, mapping allows personalized treatment for every single patient. Known as Precision Medicine Therapy, medications and clinical trials are matched directly to individual cancers. “Everyone asks me what the best treatment is for cancer. That’s not the way it works,” added Dr. Thompson. “Every patient is given the best medicine for them.”

    A Vision for the Future

    Memorial Sloan Kettering opened a 114,000 square foot out patient treatment center in West Harrison, although they did a have a presence in Westchester for twenty years prior to that.

    “We’re not here to compete,” Thompson stressed. “We need partnerships. We don’t do obesity; we don’t treat cardio-vascular diseases or diabetes. As a specialty hospital, our 1200 doctors only focus on cancer.” He said that Westchester provides opportunities for partnerships to treat the whole patient, a key component to the new direction of healthcare, patient-centered care. As a specialty hospital, MSKCC’s 1200 doctors only focus on cancer. “Our goal is that patients in the greater New York City area will never have to drive more than thirty minutes to get the best care.” Dr. Thompson continued, “We predict in the next ten years we can treat cancer in 70% of patients with no hospital stays.”

    Final Words

    Healthcare is the only industry traditionally led by America and it continues to be led by America. “When traveling, the first things doctors want to do it show me are the American-made equipment they are using.” Dr. Thompson concluded, “Twenty percent of workers in the U.S. are employed by the healthcare industry and 17.9% of GDP is spent on healthcare. Healthcare is not broken.”

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