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Program Profile: Immunotherapy offers new options for patients with cancer


May 14, 2019 - Media Releases

Program Profile: Immunotherapy offers new options for patients with cancer

When Dr. Parneet Cheema’s family immigrated from India to settle in Yellowknife, her father didn’t think twice about how his family might adapt to life in one of Canada’s most remote northern communities. Decades later, this same brazen spirit has driven Dr. Cheema, a medical oncologist, to start a leading-edge cancer immunotherapy program at Osler. 

Immunotherapy uses one’s own immune system to fight cancer. “Immunotherapy is generally better tolerated than chemotherapy and can be offered as a treatment option depending on a patient’s condition. It is also an option for elderly patients,” says Dr. Cheema, who has treated patients in their 80s with immunotherapy. 

Dr. Cheema helped recruit Dr. Brandon Sheffield, a national expert in biomarker testing, to join the team at Osler. With his expertise, Osler is able to provide test results in two days, instead of two to four weeks for results from a test centre. “For some patients,” says Dr. Cheema, “four weeks can be the difference between a prognoses of months to years. They need treatment right away.” 

Also unique to Osler’s immunotherapy program is ongoing patient education and monitoring. “As this is a new type of therapy, we really want to empower and educate patients,” says Dr. Cheema. The oncology team at Osler has been proactive about educating patients on their immunotherapy treatment to help them manage side effects and risks. An educational video they created is posted on a Canadian cancer website and has received interest from numerous cancer centres. 

A first in Canada, Dr. Cheema and her team also created a network of subspecialty physicians, such as rheumatologists, gastroenterologists and eye specialists, to help manage patients’ side effects to give them a better quality of life. 

Dr. Cheema says immunotherapy is becoming more common, but cautions it is not an option for everyone. “Chemotherapy and targeted therapy have a very strong role and there are certain scenarios, based on the patient’s biomarkers, where options other than immunotherapy may be better for the patient.” 

Dr. Cheema is passionate about the future of oncology at Osler. “We have been recruiting oncologists, we are developing our biomarkers and clinical trials program—what we’re able to do for our patients is truly a pride point for us and for Osler.” 

Photo: (L-R) Dr. Parneet Cheema, Medical Oncologist, Brampton Civic Hospital; Massey Nematollahi, Immuno-Oncology Nurse Specialist, Brampton Civic Hospital; Dr. Brandon Sheffield, Pathologist, Brampton Civic Hospital.