Celestia S. Higano, MD, FACP
Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
University of Washington School of Medicine
Communication is a key element in the physician-patient relationship. I enjoy the challenge of educating patients about their disease and treatment options. Maintaining or improving quality of life should be the goal of any treatment modality.”
Why do you practice oncology?
At SCCA, about 20 percent of men with prostate cancer participate in clinical trials, says Higano, compared to about 2 percent to 4 percent of all people with cancer nationwide. Higano is no doubt part of the reason. She has been working with men who have prostate cancer for about 20 years—since the time when hormone therapy was the only treatment option for metastatic disease. The limited options drove her and others in prostate care to spend the next two decades searching for more effective treatments. “It’s been very gratifying because over those years there have been a lot of really significant changes in the field,” she says. Now chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and other targeted anti-cancer agents are part of the mix, especially for patients who take part in studies. Research to hone these treatment options and to discover others continues in earnest. Higano and the rest of the SCCA prostate cancer research team help lead the charge, offering studies whenever appropriate to men who come to SCCA for care. Nationally there are probably fewer than 20 medical oncologists considered experts in prostate cancer, Higano estimates, a small group compared with experts in other common cancers, such as breast cancer. Her years of experience and dedication to research put Higano in this elite group. “There’s not a recipe that you can follow for every situation,” says Higano. If the standard first-line treatment fails to halt the disease in a particular patient, oncologists have to be willing to think creatively about that individual’s situation and all available treatments, including those that are experimental. “You have to look at the whole patient,” she says.