Our Role in Beating Cancer Together in New Jersey and Beyond

New Brunswick, February 4, 2021 – World Cancer Day is an international initiative uniting people around the world in an effort to raise awareness and take action. This year’s theme — “Together, all our actions matter” — calls for individuals to reflect on the idea that collaboration and collective action make us stronger in the fight against cancer and spreads the powerful message that we all have a  role to play in reducing the global impact of the disease. At Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey in partnership with RWJBaranabas Health, experts are always working toward the goal of helping individuals fight cancer through onsite research, clinical trials and collaborations with teams locally and across the globe.

Howard S. Hochster, MD, FACP, associate director for clinical research at Rutgers Cancer Institute; director of oncology research at RWJBarnabas Health; and distinguished professor of medicine, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, shares more about how our every-day collaborative efforts are impacting the cancer fight.  

Can you describe how research collaborations at Rutgers Cancer Institute and RWJBarnabas Health contribute to the collective mission of beating cancer?

Rutgers Cancer Institute is a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of very few across the nation achieving this highest designation. The organization allows physician-scientists to engage in basic, clinical and population translational research, and transform their laboratory discoveries into clinical practice. Cancer research at Rutgers Cancer Institute is highly multidisciplinary, bringing together laboratory investigators and clinicians from different disciplines to focus on important areas of cancer science. In addition to internal collaborators, we work with our research consortium partner Princeton University, other academic institutions and cancer centers across the nation and globe, cooperative groups and industry in collaborative research efforts.  Laboratory findings are often translated into clinical trials, which we offer broadly throughout the state in partnership with RWJBarnabas Health sites. Each time collaboration occurs between a patient, a researcher, and cancer care team, more is learned and more evidence is gathered for collective gain for all people diagnosed with cancer.

How does Rutgers Cancer Institute and RWJBarnabas Health contribute to cancer education and awareness for local communities?

We at Rutgers Cancer Institute and RWJBarnabas Health are obligated to educate and spread awareness about cancer and disease prevention throughout the communities that we serve. To do this, we promote cancer prevention by engaging with partners to coordinate community outreach events, offer virtual educational webinars and workshops for both community and professional groups and many other activities to support efforts to reduce the cancer burden in New Jersey. We have also established programs like ScreenNJ, which is a partnership between Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the New Jersey Department of Health, and healthcare and community organizations across New Jersey. This program provides increased screening tests for colorectal and lung cancer, thereby reducing cancer mortality rates and disparities. Additionally, the program works towards educating New Jersey residents about the importance of cancer screening, early detection, and prevention to contribute towards the national goal of reducing the incidence of cancer.

Have Rutgers Cancer Institute and RWJBarnabas Health contributed to collective action in the fight against COVID-19?

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, health care systems across the globe including Rutgers Cancer Institute and RWJBarnabas Health moved quickly to adapt to new demands. This included supporting patients, resuming screenings, maintaining awareness on the need for prevention and providing a safe environment for patients, families and staff. We regard these efforts and cancer research as “essential activities.” Even while facing these challenges, our team of internationally recognized physicians and researchers have continued working together on translating discoveries into new approaches in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. We maintained enrollment on therapeutic clinical trials throughout the pandemic, and have even used our resources to contribute to significant COVID-19 research. These contributions include studies about COVID-19 surface testing in hematology oncology and radiation oncology patient and staffing areas and important studies on how SARS-CoV-2 effects the cancer patient.