TAMPA — In the midst of the political turmoil surrounding healthcare, some incredible medical breakthroughs are happening right here in Tampa Bay.
Moffitt doctors are using math to treat cancer.
It's called “mathematical oncology.” Scientists and doctors, mathematicians, at Moffitt Cancer Center are trying to take all of the variables they can, describe them with mathematical formulas about how cancer is responding to treatment in your body. This is the only place in the world that's treating cancer like this.
“I mean, I see this as a revolution,” said Dr. Alexander Anderson. “I don't use that term lightly. I really believe it is a revolution.”
Anderson stands in a room - three walls of which are covered with equations on a dusty chalkboard. He calls it the “collabritorium.” That room is all about solving life and death problems with math.
“What we’re trying to do with mathematics here is predict how the patient's cancer will grow, spread, and more importantly how it will respond to treatment,” Anderson said.
He says it's kind of like how meteorologists track hurricanes with spaghetti models. They take lots of variables and run the possible paths through a computer model.
Anderson's idea isn't to rid you of your cancer but to manage it as a chronic illness like diabetes.
“Instead of the patient receiving the maximum dose, they actually receive the effective dose for them,” Anderson said. “And as soon as you do that, every patient's treatment plan is totally different. None of them are the same.”
He says that level of personalized treatment can keep cancer cells in control. He says the sway cancer is normally treated now can leave a few drug-resistant cells behind that can grow back. The math-based treatment manages the tumor to stay pretty much the same over a long period of time.
“I've done these cycles a number of times now over two years,” said Robert Butler.
He’s receiving the math-based treatment for prostate cancer.
“...there won't be so many side effects by taking lesser amounts of this drug over the period of a year. That may well be very true…” he said.
“Adaptive is the key word there. You're adapting, changing the dose based on the patient's response,” Anderson said.
And that can save lives by helping you live with cancer.
One of the other potential benefits of this math-based cancer treatment method is that it can reduce a patient's expenses.
Anderson says when patients are taking fewer drugs over a longer period of time, they often pay less for medication.