Published on May 05, 2014

Q&A: Cancer

with Nazareth Hospital oncologist Allison Zibelli

Learn about the latest developments in cancer treatment at Nazareth Hospital.

If you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, don’t hesitate to turn to Nazareth Hospital. Allison Zibelli, MD, an oncologist on staff at Nazareth and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and The Jefferson Kimmel Cancer Center, talks about the leading-edge cancer treatment available right here at your neighborhood hospital.

Q: Are there any new developments in cancer diagnosis? 

We have come to realize that not all cancers are the same. Through genomic testing, we can subtype cancers so that we can try to predict in advance what treatments may be more effective. We use the tumor tissue to look for specific "targets." As we learn more and more about cancer biology, we realize that cancers are much more varied than we used to think.

Q: What is the most promising development in cancer treatment? 

Targeted therapy tailored to a patient through genetic profiling and genomic testing is definitely the most exciting development in cancer treatment today. Targeted therapy blocks the growth and spread of cancer by interfering with the specific molecules involved in tumor growth while sparing healthy tissue. It’s less toxic than standard chemotherapy and works better, with fewer side effects. Progress in this field is occurring very rapidly, with targeted therapy for some types of cancer already a reality.

Q: How can cancer patients make treatment go smoothly? 

They should be prepared to take some time off when they need it. After a couple of treatments they’ll be able to discern a pattern of how they’re reacting – which days they’re likely to be too tired to go anywhere or be productive. Those are the days they can plan in advance to work from home, if possible, or work on a reduced schedule.

Also, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help – for a ride to an appointment or with meal preparation or to pick up a prescription, for example. And when someone offers to help out, be specific about what’s needed. It will make the patient and the helper feel better.

Q: What is important to know about cancer?  

First, I want them to realize that a diagnosis of cancer is not a death sentence. Even if the particular cancer is not curable, we can help a person live … and live well … for many years. Also, patients diagnosed with cancer shouldn’t be afraid of chemotherapy. We have much better symptom management now than in the past, so patients can undergo chemo without fear of uncontrollable side effects.

Q: What is the best part of your job? 

The best part is getting to know people very well over a long period of time. Most people do well following treatment, but even if there is no cure, I can still help and support them. It’s really a privileged position to be in. Plus, I get a lot of hugs!