There’s no better way to spend your life than trying to cure cancer, UTHSCT’s Dr. Coty Ho says

Friday, March 21, 2008

When you ask Dr. Coty Ho of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler why he’s a cancer doctor, he has a simple answer.

“What better way to spend your life than in trying to find a cure for cancer? I may not be successful, but I will certainly try my best,” said Dr. Ho, who is UTHSCT’s chief of medical oncology and associate professor of oncology.

“Being a cancer doctor offers me everything I want in terms of my career. I get to take care of people; I’m there when people really need a doctor. And it’s scientifically and intellectually challenging,” he said, adding that he decided to be an oncologist during his residency just after he finished medical school.

Before coming to UTHSCT in fall 2007, Dr. Ho was medical director of Pharmaceutical Products Development, Inc., a private research company in Wilmington, N.C., that specializes in developing cancer drugs.

He wants his patients to have access to the latest in cancer therapies, through clinical trials of newer drugs not yet available on the market.

“As a clinician and researcher, I serve as a bridge between our basic science researchers and our patients. The advantage of being a clinician researcher is that you’re more in tune with your patients. You know what your patients are going through, all the drugs’ side effects,” Dr. Ho said.

As new drugs are being developed, they have to be tested on people. Dr. Ho has been involved in testing new drugs to determine the safest and most effective dose, and he’s conducted clinical trials comparing new drugs to existing drugs to see which is best.

“In clinical trials, the data that we gain not only helps the patients in the trials, but also future patients,” said Dr. Ho, who is board certified in internal medicine and medical oncology.

In the next three to five years, he wants to see UTHSCT provide specialized treatment for cancer, especially lung cancer.

He doesn’t want East Texans to have to travel to Houston, Dallas, or out of state to receive state-of-the-art specialized cancer treatment.

“I want to set up a network so that clinical trials available at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center would be available to our patients here. M.D. Anderson is always involved in developing new drugs. They are a big center with access to cutting-edge technology. My dream is to bring that kind of treatment here, since we’re also in the University of Texas System,” Dr. Ho said.

People with cancer already have to cope with a terrible disease, so having to travel long distances by car or plane to receive treatment is an added burden for them and their families.

“Since UTHSCT is known for treating lung disease, I want it to be a major center for lung cancer treatment and research,” Dr. Ho said.

“We’re still a long way from finding a cure for lung cancer. However, there are new oral drugs that are easier for people to take and have fewer side effects. There are roughly twice as many drugs to treat lung cancer now as there were 10 years ago,” he said.

Before coming to UTHSCT, Dr. Ho was an attending physician in the Hematology/Oncology Department at Duke University Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital.

He was an assistant professor of medicine in the Section of Hematology/Oncology at the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Dr. Ho also served as an assistant professor of medicine and oncology in the Division of Hematology/Oncology at the Winship Cancer Institute at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

He completed a Medical Oncology Fellowship at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s Sydney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center in Baltimore.

Dr. Ho did his residency and internship in internal medicine at Yale New Haven Hospital, Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn.

He received his medical degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.

Dr. Ho decided he wanted to be a doctor while he was still in middle school.

“I’ve always loved science and applied science. You can learn about biology and about chemistry, but with medical science, whatever you learn, you can apply right away. You can make a difference right away,” he said.

“I think patience is the most important characteristic for a cancer doctor, the patience to listen to your patients, to try to find out what they want in terms of their overall care. Some people want very aggressive care; others want more palliative care,” Dr. Ho said.

“You have to listen, not only to the patient, but also to the family. You have to have the patience to answer all their questions. Understandably, cancer patients and their families have lots of questions,” he said.

“The second characteristic is knowledge. You can be the most compassionate physician, but if you don’t have knowledge, you’re just a charlatan. This is why I’m so interested in research, because it keeps you on the leading edge of your science. You’re writing papers, you’re presenting papers, and you have your hand in what’s happening in your field. That keeps you on top of your game, as they say,” Dr. Ho said.

Finally, oncologists have to be realistic.

“You have to know your limits, what you can do for your patient and what you can’t. Don’t make empty promises,” he said.

-- For Doctor of the Year section published March 30, 2008, in the Longview News-Journal

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