A. McGarry Houghton, MD
Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
University of Washington School of Medicine
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Lung cancer early detection, Pulmonary medicine
I don’t leave the room until everyone has been heard and each question has been answered.”
What do you enjoy about practicing pulmonary medicine at SCCA?
In the pulmonary group, my colleagues and I see patients with lung problems that aren’t very common. One example is a condition called bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome (BOS), which can affect people who have received a bone marrow transplant. It can be serious, resulting in a progressive loss of lung function. Most pulmonary physicians outside of a tertiary cancer center like SCCA might only see one or two cases in their whole career. We see several patients with this issue each week, so we’re really familiar with it and have developed expertise in how to treat it. It’s important to have a group like ours that are experts in this small slice of pulmonary medicine. I’ve always found it really rewarding to be able to provide a service that people need — and that isn’t commonly available in many communities.
Specialties and clinical expertise
The branch of medicine a provider practices and their areas of focus
I am a board-certified pulmonologist who treats patients with respiratory problems from cancer or cancer treatment. I also work with patients through SCCA’s Lung Cancer Early Detection and Prevention Clinic. The goal of the clinic is to help diagnose lung cancer at its earliest stage, when it’s more treatable.
At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, I lead the lung cancer research group. My lab is focused on studying the molecules and cells in non-small cell lung cancer that prevent the immune system from attacking tumors. Our goal is to develop more effective immunotherapies for patients with this disease. My colleagues and I are also seeking blood biomarkers for lung cancer that would ultimately serve as a foundation for a blood test. The idea is that a blood test, combined with a CT scan and a patient’s history, could help us diagnose lung cancer earlier.
Tell us about an interaction with a patient that had an impact on you.
One day, I saw a patient with lung cancer who also had a condition called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); together, the two diseases were making it very difficult for her to breathe. Her cancer was not curable, but she wanted someone to find a way to ease her breathlessness and help improve the quality of the time she had left. We really connected that day —in part because I have a research background in non-cancerous lung diseases like COPD, so I had an idea of what she was going through, but also because I was able to take the time to really sit and listen to her. I don’t leave the room until everyone has been heard and each question has been answered.
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