Craig Stevens, M.D., has heard too many stories about patients with mesothelioma leaving Michigan to seek treatment elsewhere, searching for the best, specialized care they could find.
He wants to stop that exodus by making the Beaumont Cancer Institute in suburban Detroit the best regional center for mesothelioma treatment.
Stevens is the recently-appointed chairman of the Radiation Oncology Department at Beaumont. He is a pioneer in the use of Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) and a specialist in the treatment of pleural mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer.
He wants to build and integrate a new specialty program for this asbestos-related cancer with an already acclaimed multidisciplinary lung cancer program at Beaumont. It’s one of the major reasons he left the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.
“There is no real [mesothelioma] program in the state like what we’re putting together,” Stevens told Asbestos.com. “Everyone is enthused about this. When you think about the best mesothelioma treatment in the country now, you think about New York, Boston and Houston, but really nowhere in the Midwest. We can change that here.”
Michigan ranks 9th among the 50 states with the most asbestos-related cancer deaths, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The auto industry, once huge in the state; the shipping industry on the Great Lakes; and a past reliance on manufacturing all play a role in Michigan’s prevalence of the disease.
The cancer is caused by exposure to asbestos, which was used extensively in those industries.
“There is a need in this state for a real mesothelioma program, when you think about the jobs and industry here, the number of brake pads that were produced and handled here,” Stevens said. “Beaumont already is a preferred place to be treated for any number of diseases. We need this to be a place where a patient with mesothelioma can get the finest care possible.”
Stevens’ goal at Beaumont is a center with a multimodality approach, where aggressive surgeries can be combined with state-of-the-art radiation therapy, and the latest in chemotherapy treatments. He wants to have an experienced mesothelioma specialist in each of those disciplines, meeting regularly to discuss cases. Clinical trials involving immunotherapy also will be available.
Although mesothelioma has no cure, and often still comes with a grim prognosis, some patients at the big specialty centers are living longer than ever before, reaching 2, 3, 4 and 5 years after diagnosis.
“You need to have enough experience with this disease to know how to handle it best. Patients can do well with it if managed properly,” Stevens said. “If it’s not treated correctly, which happens too often in many places, the results are not good.”
Beaumont already has several multidisciplinary programs designed for cancer patients. They combine a comprehensive clinical, academic and research approach, delivering oncological services that are second to none.
The National Institutes of Health regularly rank Beaumont among the top cancer centers in America. The Cunnington Family Comprehensive Lung Cancer Center at Beaumont boasts renowned experts in thoracic surgery, pulmonology, nuclear medicine, and diagnostic and interventional radiology.
The radiation oncology department is known for its innovative treatment and advanced technology, a big reason they wanted Stevens to lead the staff. Beaumont helped develop high-dose brachytherapy, image-guided radiation therapy and hyperthermia therapy.
Stevens brought years of experience as a leader in the field, too, first at the University of Pennsylvania and then at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Texas.
He spent almost a decade at Moffitt, where he was department chair of radiation oncology, focusing on thoracic cavity diseases. He worked on thoracic oncology, radiation oncology and experimental therapeutics programs, always looking for better ways to fight different cancers.
At Moffitt, he wrote a lengthy article titled “Personalized Treatment Approaches in Radiation Oncology: The Future is Now,” urging colleagues to look toward newer and better therapies.
The goal of IMRT is delivering the maximum radiation doses to the cancer cells without hurting the healthy ones nearby, a process that works well with mesothelioma patients. He also is following closely a novel radiation delivery system being used in Toronto with surgical patients that is experiencing notable success.
“Until there is a cure for this disease, we should encourage people to try new things, be as creative as we can,” he said. “We’re always looking for novel ways to get better at treating this disease. That’s what we want to do here.”