Pediatric Hematologist and Oncologist Lucie Turcotte, MD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Medical School spends her days looking into the lives of cancer survivors. “Primarily childhood cancer survivors,” explains Dr. Turcotte. “Over the course of their life time these survivors are at risk for developing a lot of other health complications.”

Focusing on secondary cancers, Dr. Turcotte studies how children who have been cured of cancer will be at risk for developing a second cancer later in life.

“I’m looking at when people develop these second cancers, how we are treating them, how they experience that treatment, if they are at higher risk for developing treatment toxicities and what their survival look like after they’ve received those therapies?”

Specifically, Dr. Turcotte is currently looking at secondary breast cancer, to understand if we can develop safer, less toxic breast cancer therapy that would help these survivors live longer. These post-cancer complications, such as secondary breast cancer, often do not present in survivors until much later in their lives.

“One thing that is surprising to people is that when these patients experience late effects of therapy or long-term health complications, they might not occur until 20 years or more later.” Often the effects of treatment given to these young survivors will persist into middle or older age.

Dr. Turcotte was fortunate to receive a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) titled Treatment Modifications, Outcomes and Provider Decision Making in the Management of Subsequent Breast Cancers Among Survivors of Childhood Cancer. This K08 will allow Dr. Turcotte to continue the work that she is doing.

“Anytime you receive support from the NIH it’s a huge honor,” states Dr. Turcotte. She explains how the need for her research came out of the fact that historically, doctors have not seen childhood cancer survivors live into middle age. They are now starting to see the impact of what happens in this early stage of life and how long the effects persist.

Currently, there is no standard for how to treat a second cancer. “No one really knows how It impacts the survivor, what the impact of their previous treatments are, or how they can tolerate later treatment.”

The ability to complete this research is the first step towards understanding more about how a second cancer differs from first cancer as well as how doctors can improve the survivor’s quality of survival.

Dr. Turcotte explains how her work goes much further than focusing on the surface level details of who is at risk. “This is sort of diving into another layer and saying, of these people that we know are at risk, what can we do help them when cancer strikes again?”

Assistance for this research has come from many different places for Dr. Turcotte. One place being the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study (CCSS) based out of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“Without access to the CCSS, research like this wouldn’t be possible because childhood cancer is relatively rare,” states Dr. Turcotte.

Success for Dr. Turcotte has come from contributing to the follow-up guidelines for survivors. The Children’s Oncology Group, the world’s largest children’s cancer clinical trials cooperative group, has incorporated some of Dr. Turcotte’s published papers into their follow-up guidelines and used her work to shape recent updates.

“That’s an amazing feeling to see that your work is having clinical impact and clinical utility because I think that’s everyone’s goal is to do something that is going to make a difference for these kids.”

Motivation comes to Dr. Turcotte in knowing that her work is more than just academically interesting, but clinically applicable as well. “It inspires me to think about ways that we can do more to help these people and make their survival the highest quality possible.”

This grant will allow Dr. Turcotte to become more immersed in her research. It will provide her with sufficient research time to focus on this critical survivorship issue, while still caring for patients in the pediatric oncology and survivorship clinic.

“It gives me the opportunity to develop important skills to take the next steps in my research and work.”