What is Neuro-Oncology?
Although most brain tumor patients in the United States are under the care of an oncologist, many major cancer centers and universities have special departments for different types of cancers. For example, there are oncologists who specialize in breast cancer, or gastrointestinal cancers, or lung cancers. They often do research or have done research in these cancers and, as most people improve as they gain experience, they may provide specialized care for this subset of patients.
Neuro-oncologists at many cancer centers specialize in the treatment of brain and spinal cord tumors. Until recently, there were very few drugs that were known to be effective against brain tumors. Also, some of the more common drugs used in the treatment of brain tumors are oral drugs. While there are many tumors that metastasize to the brain (beginning in the lung or breast, for example) tumors that begin in the brain or spinal cord are much more unusual.
When Dr. Stark-Vance began her training at the National Cancer Institute in 1990, few researchers there were interested in treating adult brain tumors. However, she was able to work with well-known pediatric oncologists and ophthalmologists who were interested in treating lymphomas in the eye, brain, and spinal fluid Her collaboration with these other specialties led to a new chemotherapy protocol for primary central nervous system lymphoma, which was later published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. That experience encouraged her to study other brain tumors, and her interest continues to this day.
While at the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Stark-Vance also worked in the Cancer Treatment Evaluation Program, which oversees clinical trials and new drug development. With her background in the development of new drugs for the treatment of cancer, Dr. Stark-Vance has served on the Institutional Review Board at Harris Methodist Fort Worth and served as the principal investigator for local clinical trials. She has continued to develop new treatment protocols since entering private practice. In 2005, she presented results of the first clinical trial using Avastin for patients with recurrent malignant glioma at the World Federation of Neuro-Oncology, earning international recognition.