Sanjiv S. Agarwala, MD, is chief of medical
oncology and hematology for St. Lukes University Hospital & Health
Network, based in Bethlehem, Pa, and professor of medicine at Temple University
School of Medicine.
Agarwala, a member of the HemOnc Today
Editorial Board, is a melanoma specialist. He will serve as program director of
HemOnc Today Melanoma and Cutaneous Malignancies
meeting, which will take place April 13 and 14 at the Grand Hyatt New York
I have a very good friend who was a classmate in medical
school who came down with adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia. I was doing a
hematology rotation at the time, and I did his bone marrow for him. He had an
identical match in his brother, and he had a bone marrow transplant and was
cured. I remember being amazed at how he basically beat what was a horrible
leukemia. This started my fascination with cancer in general.
Sanjiv S. Agarwala
When I can give a patient hope when they think they have
none and, of course, when I am able to put a patient into remission and,
maybe, even cure them, which is unfortunately still rare in my field.
Because I am a specialist and work at a referral center,
I often see patients who are very sick and so advanced that their options are
very limited. Trying to find a treatment for them, or sometimes having to tell
them that treatment either is not possible or is not a good idea, is very
My primary mentor was John
Kirkwood, MD, a renowned melanoma specialist and a HemOnc
Today Editorial Board member. I did my training with him at the
University of Pittsburgh and he recruited me to be part of his team. We worked
together for more than 15 years.
Not to give up when dealing with a very tough disease. I
can remember, as recently as a year ago, wondering if I had made the wrong
choice, as far as picking melanoma as the disease I should work with, after
having 20 years or more of negative clinical trials. The advice given to me
was: Dont give up, one day there will be a breakthrough; and indeed it
happened. The FDA approved new, very promising drugs for metastatic melanoma in
2011 ipilimumab (Yervoy, Bristol-Myers Squibb) and vemurafenib
(Zelboraf, Roche) and pegylated interferon (Sylatron, Merck) for adjuvant
In oncology, in general, and in melanoma, specifically,
we are moving toward a very personalized approach to treatment. One day, not to
far in the future, each patient will get a specific test, probably on their
tumor, that will determine the specific drug for that person, and it will be
designed from the ground up for that individual. Although we give names to
cancer, everyones cancer is unique; therefore, we are only going to be
100% successful in curing everybody if we find the right drug for each
Oncology is very difficult. Its easy to burn out.
I would encourage them to stay with it, to maintain their sense of balance and
compassion, and to never forget that most patients who develop cancer think
they are going to die. Therefore, anything you do for them is very much
Sanjiv S. Agarwala, MD, is pictured with his
family during a ski trip last year in Lake Tahoe.
Photo courtesy of S. Agarwala, MD
Thats easy. Id be a professional traveler,
and food and wine critic. I want Anthony Bourdains job.
I travel, I am an amateur photographer and I like to
bicycle. When I get time, I read, as well.
The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the
Panama Canal, 1870-1914, by David McCullough. The biggest hurdle to
building the Panama Canal was not just the geography and the logistics, but the
fact that at that time it was not known that yellow fever and
malaria were caused by mosquitoes. Until they figured that out and eliminated
the mosquito problem from the isthmus, they couldnt build the canal. It
was fascinating to think that a medical discovery was instrumental in the
building of the Panama Canal.
I havent read a fiction book in a very long time.
I like to read about where Im going to travel. In the last few years,
every time I know Im going somewhere, I get at least one or two good
books to learn the history of the place before I go. Then, even a short trip
I like all kinds. Im not very picky. I like simple
easy listening music depending on the mood I am in.
Iceland. It was the most beautiful place I have ever
been to rugged, remote, beautiful and unspoiled.
As I mentioned before, three new drugs for melanoma were
approved in 2011. Participants can expect to get an update on the data with
these drugs and where they fit in. When you have nothing that works, actually
its quite easy put them on a clinical trial. However, now that we
have options that actually work, the clinician who is sitting in the office
needs to know who they treat with vemurafenib and who they treat with
ipilimumab. If you can do both, which should you do first? Is it possible to
combine them? What are the new drugs out there that might help these work
We are going to talk about injectable therapies and some
other trials and experimental drugs that are being researched. Participants can
expect to learn about whats new in melanoma, how to use the new drugs
that are approved, and also get a sense of future research prospects.
We also have a good distribution of topics based on diagnosis,
dermatology and cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. The participants will hear about
some of the new diagnostic techniques that dermatologists are using and also
some of the updates on other cutaneous cancers. by Emily