Catherine Broome, MD, is a board-certified hematologist/oncologist at Georgetown University Hospital’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. In our “Meet the Specialist” series, we highlight the unique perspectives of various medical specialists on the types of patients they see and what they find rewarding and challenging in their daily practice. As a hematologist/oncologist, I specialize in treating patients with blood disorders ranging from cancers to non cancers. I’ve been practicing for 25 years, and hematology/oncology is certainly a field that is changing. There are so many new, exciting treatment options available for patients, and these advances make it a very interesting and rewarding time to be a hematologist/oncologist. Scientifically, it’s thrilling to see how much we’re learning about cancer, and on the patient care level, we’ve made huge strides as well. In the past few years, we’ve turned many forms of cancer into a chronic disease that can be managed for a long time. It’s gratifying to be able to provide benefits to so many more patients than we could in the past. Why Oncology? During my medical residency, I found myself thinking about what my life would be like in the future, and as I examined the patients in my clinic, I realized I enjoyed caring for cancer patients the most. I was drawn to the relationships you develop with patients in hematology/oncology. It’s a very intense relationship initially, one that requires a lot of trust and communication. It’s often a long-term connection where you get to know the patients and their families well. This allows you to understand the things that are important to them. In addition to the rewarding relationships, the science was also quite fascinating. It’s a field in which we have a lot to learn, but our capabilities of investigating the underlying causes of disease continue to expand and grow. As we learn more about the abnormalities that cause a particular disease, we are able to develop therapies that are more targeted and hopefully more effective. My Day-to-Day Schedule I work at a comprehensive cancer center as part of a large university health system. A comprehensive cancer center is designated by the National Cancer Institute in acknowledgement of its capacity for cutting edge research and ability to involve many different specialties in the care of patients. Cancer care is very much a team effort, and this team consists of not only hematologist/oncologists, but also radiation oncologists, surgeons, social workers, nutritionists, therapists, and specialists who vary depending on specific types of cancer; for example, gastroenterologists will be involved in treating stomach cancer. Each week, I spend several days in clinic which are concentrated on patient care. Some patients have a new diagnosis and need a treatment plan, and some have no diagnosis so we are discussing additional tests to try to establish a diagnosis. Some patients are seen for a second opinion or to discuss a clinical trial we have available. The rest of my week is spent teaching medical students, residents, and interns at the university. I’m also involved in research. A Changing Field When I began my training, there were not many curative therapies and a large portion of what I did in the past was help patients navigate situations in which there were no cures, to help them maximize the time they had left. In the last two decades, the way cancer is treated has really evolved. First, in many instances, new therapy has taken cancers that used to essentially be fatal, and turned them into chronic conditions. We haven’t reached the point where we can cure all cancer, but we can now prescribe medications that patients take for very long periods of time without significant side effects. We’ve turned many cancer diagnoses into something patients manage for a long time, just like they’d manage blood pressure or diabetes. We’ve also learned much more about how to target therapies specifically against cancer cells, which makes treatments more effective with fewer side effects. Additionally, we are learning how to “harness” the power of the patient’s own immune system to fight cancer, which is a huge breakthrough in cancer treatment. And lastly, cancer care in general is no longer as hospital-based as it once was. In the past, patients would spend many days in the hospital receiving treatment; today, it’s very rare to admit patients to the hospital for these treatments. We try to do as much as possible in an outpatient setting so patients can continue to work if they’re able, stay at home, and interact with their families. Because so much is changing with cancer care, it’s crucial for patients to find a hematologist/oncologist they trust. Cancer treatment is a team sport, and patients and their families are very important members of the team. I advise patients to look for a hospital where they feel comfortable and confident in the recommendations they’re receiving. If this isn’t the case, keep looking until you find the right care. The most rewarding part of my job is my relationships with my patients. Patients give me so much more than they take. I receive so much positive energy and gratitude from patients who teach me about life every day. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to play a positive role in a very difficult situation.