UCSF Fresno Brings Advanced Care to Cancer Patients in the San Joaquin Valley

In September 2017, UCSF Fresno took over the Community Medical Centers Cancer Services Clinical Research Program through a collaboration agreement. In August 2018, cancer research was consolidated under one roof at the Community Cancer Institute (CCI) in Clovis, allowing for more coordination of care and for a quadrupling of enrollment to clinical trials as compared to previous years. And beginning this fall, UCSF Fresno is expanding research opportunities as part of a research consortium. 

Each of the UCSF Fresno medical oncologists has interests in specialized areas of oncology care and cancer research. Uzair Chaudhary, MD, division chief of hematology/oncology specializes in gastrointestinal, genitourinary cancers; Haifaa Abdulhaq, MD, and Sani Bukari, MD, specialize in hematologic malignancies; Li Li, MD, PhD, specializes in lung cancer; and Constance Stoehr, MD, specializes in gynecologic and breast cancers.

UCSF Fresno currently is managing about 60 clinical trials, including industry clinical trials and pharmaceutical companies and cooperative trials through the National Cancer Institute, specifically through The Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology and NRG Oncology. UCSF Fresno also provides administrative support to faculty and fellows on investigator-initiated studies.

Most recently, UCSF Fresno became the newest member of the University of California Hematologic Malignancies Consortium (UCHMC). The UCHMC is a collaboration of academic physicians doing clinical research at five UC Cancer Centers. In September, UCSF Fresno joined the consortium as its sixth member. Inclusion in the UCHMC allows UCSF Fresno medical oncologists to work jointly with researchers at UC Cancer Centers located at UC Davis, UCSF, UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UCLA; and the collaboration opens the door for patients in the San Joaquin Valley with cancers of the blood to participate in clinical trials that have mostly been unavailable to them.

“Being a part of the UC Hematologic Malignancies Consortium will enable us to offer clinical trials available through the consortium here in Fresno so our patients don’t have to travel to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento or San Diego for this,” said Dr. Abdulhaq, associate clinical professor at UCSF and director of hematology at UCSF Fresno. UCSF Fresno medical oncologists are UCSF faculty and provide cancer care at CCI.

The membership in the consortium will allow UCSF Fresno to participate in large, pharmaceutical-funded hematologic malignancies trials, and it will provide a platform at UCSF Fresno to initiate new clinical trials for patients with leukemia, lymphomas and other blood cancers. Identifying and enrolling patients with rare cancers can be a challenge, and clinical trials need enough patients for results to be scientifically valid.

“We have been trying to develop partnerships for research and foster research by having more clinical trials here,” said Dr. Chaudhary, UCSF professor of clinical medicine and interim chief of medicine at UCSF Fresno. “Our overarching goal is to achieve designation by the National Cancer Institute,” he said. There currently are 71 NCI-designated centers in the United States that meet standards for cancer research and provide cutting-edge treatments to patients.

By participation in the UCHMC and by working toward an NCI designation, UCSF Fresno patients will benefit by enrollment in clinical trials, Dr. Chaudhary said. “Patients get better care when they are on a clinical trial because they are followed very stringently,” he said. “And they benefit from newer therapies. Patients will have more opportunities to participate in novel treatments.”

UCSF Fresno medical oncologists currently stay abreast of the latest in treatments that emerge from clinical trials to provide cutting-edge care for patients with all types of cancer, from breast, lung, prostate, pancreatic, lymphomas, leukemia, bladder, etc., Dr. Chaudhary said.

Multidisciplinary tumor boards meet to discuss patient cases, which include medical oncologists, surgeons, pathologists, radiation oncologists all sitting together to recommend treatment. “It’s medical care in one-stop,” Dr. Chaudhary said.

“I have had the best treatment by UCSF Fresno doctors at this facility,” said David Peters, 77, a Kingsburg farmer and board member of the Leon S. Peters Foundation. Peters was diagnosed with cancer of the spine and lungs earlier this year by physicians at the UCSF Fresno and Community Regional Medical Center Lung Nodule Program.

Peters was referred to Dr. Abdulhaq for oncology care, which has included radiation and chemotherapy. “I’ve had complete faith in the UCSF Fresno program,” Peters said. “I’m doing well. I’m strong.”

UCSF Fresno is committed to providing outstanding clinical care, promoting research and teaching the next generation of physicians, Dr. Chaudhary said.

Hematology/oncology is one of 14 divisions in the UCSF Fresno Department of Medicine that Dr. Chaudhary oversees as interim chief of medicine. His vision for each of the divisions within the Department of Medicine is the same as for hematology/oncology – for additional infrastructure for clinical work, support for training of residents and fellows and development of research opportunities.

UCSF Fresno physicians provide much of the safety-net treatment in Fresno and surrounding areas, and that includes the care they provide to cancer patients at CCI. UCSF Fresno serves a diverse and socio-economically disadvantaged population regardless of health insurance. “At UCSF Fresno, the overall goal is to serve the community,” said Dr. Chaudhary.