Selected Podcast

The Future of Cancer Care

Dr. Thomas P. Loughran Jr., the new director of the UVA Cancer Center, discussing his plans for enhancing the care available to patients at UVA.

Learn more about Dr. Loughran's aim to better combine UVA's patient care and research efforts to help develop breakthrough treatments for cancer while continuing to provide state-of-the-art care for patients in Central Virginia and beyond.
The Future of Cancer Care
Featured Speaker:
Dr. Thomas P. Loughran Jr
Dr. Thomas P. Loughran Jr. is director of the UVA Cancer Center. He comes to UVA after 10 years as the founding director of the Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute. Dr. Loughran discovered large granular lymphocyte (LGL) leukemia and has had his research published in numerous peer-reviewed journals, including The New England Journal of Medicine, Annals of Internal Medicine, Lancet, Journal of Clinical Investigation, Journal of Clinical Oncology, and Blood.

Organization: UVA Cancer Center

Melanie Cole (Host): Dr. Thomas P. Loughran Jr., the new director of the UVA Cancer Center, is here with us today to discuss his plans for enhancing the care available to patients at UVA. Welcome to the show, Dr. Loughran. Let's start about what attracted you to the UVA Cancer Center.

Dr. Thomas Loughran, Jr. (Guest): Sure. Well, I just arrived from Penn State, the medical school there, where I was founding director of the Penn State Cancer Institute. There were several reasons that attracted me. I think foremost in those is the University of Virginia is obviously well-known as a prestigious, outstanding institution. Within that, the cancer center has been one of the major centers in the country over the past 26 years, receiving a special designation from the National Cancer Institute and recognition on the tremendous work being done here. Second point was that even though UVA is great and the cancer center is great, there are still amazing opportunities to build programs and make them stronger. Lastly, Charlottesville is a very attractive feature of the entire package, if you will.

Melanie: So as great as UVA Cancer Center was before you got there, I'm sure that you have some goals, some things you'd like to see happen and to accomplish. So what are you looking for there?

Dr. Loughran, Jr.: Sure. There're only two major goals on my arrival. The first one is to connect the outstanding basic research better to what's going on in the clinic, with the obvious goal there to advance patient care. Secondly, kind of a longer-term goal is to achieve from the NCI, National Cancer Institute, recognition as a comprehensive cancer center.

Melanie: Which means what, for the listeners?

Dr. Loughran, Jr.: Yes. I was going to say an explanation there. There are right now about 68 cancer centers that are designated across country as outstanding and received this recognition from the National Cancer Institute. There are all kinds of different flavors of these centers. Some of them are basic research centers only. Others are more focused on clinical research. But the higher designation is this comprehensive status. So of the 68, 41 of them are comprehensive, and comprehensive means that, simply put, you take maximum advantage of all the strengths of your university to have a direct impact on the people that you serve.

Melanie: So you have a cancer treatment team there at the cancer center. As I understand, this involves nurses and surgeons and radiologists and, really, patient care advocates, all.

Dr. Loughran, Jr.: Yes. We refer to that as multidisciplinary care. Sometimes people call it multi-D, for short. The goal here is it's already well-established, but certainly can be improved. The whole focus is patient-centered, so we want to make it easier and for the patient, particularly, those who are just diagnosed with cancer, which can be a life-threatening diagnosis. So for example, we have strength in all the major cancers so that we can establish clinics just that specialize, for example, in breast cancer or colon cancer or lung cancer. So all the major kinds of cancer. The idea would be that a patient anywhere in Virginia or even outside of Virginia recently diagnosed, let's just say, with colon cancer, could come and see all the doctors that they needed to see. So that would be radiation therapists, medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, and then others that play a role in that care, such as primary nurses, social workers, and all the ancillary care.

Melanie: Along with all of these different types of cancer that you can help people deal with, and treating the patient as a whole patient -- and you even have a pediatric cancer, right?

Dr. Loughran, Jr.: Yes, mm-hmm.

Melanie: So you've got all of these different multidisciplinary or multi-D, and you're treating the patient, ,really as a whole patient with nurse navigators and all of that. How do you see cancer care in general, sort of the direction that it's moving now, different than maybe it was when you started in this business?

Dr. Loughran, Jr.: Okay. That's a good question. I started about 30 years ago, so it's quite some time. So really, there is a focus in all of medicine, but I think what really has had the most impact so far in the past 10 years certainly is something called targeted treatment. Other popular terms for this are personalized medicine or precision medicine. This basically means that the three previous main ways of treating patients were surgery—and I want to emphasize that it's still probably the best and most effective treatment for the most common cancers. In this whole area, it really relies on early detection. Secondly would be medical oncology, which is my field, where we treat patients with kind of a major assault type of approach with chemotherapy, and then lastly, radiation treatment, delivering x-ray treatment to patients. All of these treatments, particularly the last two, really, the idea there was to deliver the most treatments possible that the patient can tolerate to get rid of all the cancer cells, and then the normal cells would grow back. But that has a lot of side effects associated with that, and the treatment may not be that specific. So the newer concept—let's just call it targeted treatment—is with the knowledge of the underlying fundamental problems in cancer. Say one gene, for example—and it's a simplistic explanation—maybe one cancer is caused by one gene that's constantly turned on. We want to develop drugs that will turn that protein off. Since the cancer cells rely on that protein and normal cells don't, this is kind of the ideal type of treatment, because it would be potentially much better in terms of killing the cancer cell and then secondly, cause less side effects.

Melanie: So Dr. Loughran, explain a little bit about research going on, because research, as you're talking about genetic and turning it on and off and mutations, this is where the research is going. So discuss the importance a little bit. We only have about a minute and a half left, so give us a little bit about the research in providing this high-quality cancer care.

Dr. Loughran, Jr.: Okay, sure. The way we're organized is basic research, clinical research, translational research, and population research. This last category may be the most unfamiliar to your listeners, but it's very important because this means that our goal is to keep everyone in Virginia healthy and for them never to develop cancer. So cancer prevention and research in cancer prevention is extremely important. Perhaps it might be the single most important thing we could do. If we could just get patients to stop smoking, that would get a long way to preventing cancer. We have a lot of other research going on, the basic science area, the genetics and mutations of cancer you already highlighted. Clinical research, our goal here is to develop new therapies, develop new drugs for treatment of cancer. And translational cancer is about reach, which I mentioned in my introduction today, which is to speed up the discoveries in a lab to make sure that they are reaching the clinics as best as we can so it can benefit our patients.

Melanie: That's wonderful. In the last 20 second, wrap it up for us, Dr. Loughran, and give us your best, most enthusiastic words of wisdom about the cancer center at UVA.

Dr. Loughran, Jr.: Well, it's a great place to come. We provide steady care, and we also are developing new therapy for patients. We have a wonderful, relatively new outpatient cancer center providing state-of-the-art holistic care for patients with cancer.

Melanie: Thank you so much. You're listening to UVA Health System Radio. For more information, you can go to This is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much for listening.