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Massey researcher awarded $25.2 million to lead a national clinical trial for veterans with lung cancer

Drew Moghanaki, M.D., M.P.H.

VCU Massey Cancer Center physician-researcher Drew Moghanaki, M.D., M.P.H., was awarded $25.2 million from the Veterans Health Administration to lead a national study on an alternative treatment for lung cancer, the deadliest form of cancer.

Moghanaki, who is a member of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program at Massey and an associate professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology at VCU School of Medicine, practices as a radiation oncologist at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center, which has an affiliation with Massey for its oncology care. He is co-chairing a lung cancer clinical trial that is expected to open later this year and be conducted at 16 Veterans Affairs medical centers across the country.

Called “VALOR: Veterans Affairs Lung cancer surgery Or stereotactic Radiotherapy Trial,” the trial will investigate whether stereotactic radiotherapy, a novel form of treatment for lung cancer, might be a potentially more effective alternative to surgery, the current standard of care.

Delivered in three to five outpatient sessions, stereotactic radiotherapy is administered through high doses of radiation using concentrated beams that specifically target the tumor. The treatment is painless and does not require an operation; therefore, patients do not need to be hospitalized.

Stereotactic radiotherapy is commonly used to treat brain tumors, and for elderly lung cancer patients who can’t endure a surgical operation, but it has not been recognized as a standard, recommended treatment for patients with operable lung cancer.

As Dr. Moghanaki explains, “There is a lot of research that suggests stereotactic radiotherapy might be just as effective as surgery for lung cancer, or even better. Currently, more than 90 percent of lung cancers that are caught at an early stage can be controlled with this non-surgical treatment. We know it is often safer than surgery and, for this reason, cancer researchers now question whether surgery is still the optimal treatment for lung cancer.”

But he cautioned, “While this new treatment approach is promising, we have yet to successfully compare stereotactic radiotherapy to surgery in a head-to-head trial to know how well it works in the long-term. There are many oncologists who believe stereotactic radiotherapy might be the best way to treat lung cancer. But, until a study like the VALOR trial is completed we will not know what is the best treatment for all of our lung cancer patients.”

The VALOR study includes an important collaboration with Richard Brown, Ph.D., a member of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program at Massey and an associate professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Policy at the VCU School of Medicine. For this trial, Moghanaki and Brown are implementing a clinical trial recruitment technique developed by Brown that aims to ensure patients fully understand all of the information that is provided to them regarding the potential benefits of enrolling in a study like VALOR. Brown and Moghanaki believe this novel approach may be critical to successful recruitment of patients onto a trial like this that compares such widely different treatment approaches.

Moghanaki, along with Tomer Karas, M.D., who is a thoracic surgeon at the VA medical center in Miami, will co-chair the clinical trial, which is expected to enroll 670 patients across the Veterans Affairs medical healthcare system. Funding for the VALOR study is provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Cooperative Studies Program, a national research program that has facilitated large multicenter clinical trials and epidemiological studies in the VA for many decades.

Written by: Blake Belden

Posted on: August 1, 2016