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Cancer & Blood Diseases Center

The Cancer & Blood Diseases Center at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland is nationally and internationally recognized for caring for infants, children, adolescents and young adults with cancer and non-malignant blood diseases. We are dedicated exclusively to treating pediatric cancers and blood diseases. Our board certified hematologists and oncologists offer sub-specialty expertise in all areas of childhood cancer. As members of the Children’s Oncology Group (COG)—the largest cooperative pediatric clinical trials group in the nation—our patients have access to an extensive range of clinical trials of new therapies, and studies investigating the biology, genetics, and epidemiology of different cancers, as well as management of long-term treatment effects.

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Specialized Cancer, Blood diseases and Blood & Marrow Transplant Progams

 

General Oncology

The Oncology Program at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland is at the forefront of cancer treatment and research—helping to develop and evaluate therapies that offer the best opportunities for survival and preservation of quality of life. We provide our patients with access to state-of-the-art diagnostic and treatment methods, including the option to participate in clinical trials using experimental therapies or new drugs. James Feusner, MD is the Chair of the Oncology Program.

Neuro-Oncology Program

Our multidisciplinary approach to treating pediatric brain and spinal cord tumors using Children’s Oncology Group (COG), Pacific Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Consortium (PNOC), and Head Start Consortium protocols has been successful in minimizing the adverse neurocognitive effects of brain tumor therapy while offering patients the newest approaches to clinical care and understanding of disease. Joe Torkildson, MD is the Director of the Neuro-Oncology Program.

Early Phase/Novel Therapeutics Oncology Program

The Early Phase/Novel Therapeutics Oncology Program at Children’s provides local access to early phase I/II trials for the treatment of relapsed and refractory pediatric cancers. A recent policy statement by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) emphasized the urgent need for more pediatric phase I trials and institutions to improve access and enrollment for pediatric patients. In addition to new drug treatment protocols, we have early phase trials in supportive care, drug metabolism and novel methods for tumor surveillance. This program is currently supported by grants from the St. Baldrick’s Foundation and the Northern Nevada Children’s Cancer Foundation.

Survivors of Childhood Cancer Program

Follow-up care is critical to the health and well-being of childhood cancer survivors. Through our Survivors of Childhood Cancer Program, we screen, monitor, and manage the health of our survivors. Our multi-disciplinary team assesses for potential medical and emotional late-effects and ensures that our patients are experiencing the best possible quality of life. The program, directed by the pediatric oncologist and survivorship expert James Feusner, MD, is available to children, adolescents, and young adults who have been off treatment for pediatric cancer for two or more years. The program is coordinated by Dina Hankin, PhD, Clinical Psychologist.

Psychology Oncology Program

The Psychology Oncology Program (POP) at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland provides support and techniques to successfully manage the emotional toll of a cancer diagnosis. Led by psychologist Dina Hankin, PhD, our specialized team of physicians, nurses, social workers, neuropsychologist, and child life specialists provides a safe and nurturing space for individuals to explore the challenges of being a child with cancer, or caring for a child with cancer. Services provided include emotional support and psychotherapy for patients, siblings and parents, school and social reintegration, and bereavement support.

Video: POP - Psychology Oncology Program

Blood and Marrow Transplant Program

The Blood and Marrow Transplant (BMT) Program at Benioff Children’s Hospital provides leading-edge care in all areas of hematopoietic cell transplantation and is among the most comprehensive programs in California. The California Department of Health and Human Services has designated Children’s BMT program as a Center of Excellence for pediatric stem cell transplantation and is accredited by the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy. We have performed over 200 transplants since the program began in 2000, and are proud of our 70% survival rate. We accept referrals for hematologic, oncologic, immune deficiency, genetic and other disorders. Mark Walters, MD is the Director of the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program.

Apheresis & Photopheresis Therapy

We offer red cell apheresis for patients with iron overload and its complications in patients with sickle cell disease, thalassemia or other conditions that require chronic transfusion. We provide extracorporeal photopheresis (ECP) as a treatment for graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) in children, a potentially life-threatening complication after a bone marrow transplant. The biggest potential benefit of ECP is that children can avoid taking drugs like steroids that suppress the immune system to treat GVHD. ECP can be a safe and effective alternative. Other services provide stem cell collections for oncology patients anticipating bone marrow transplant and leukocyte reduction. We also offer plasma pheresis for a variety of neurologic and immune-mediated disorders.

General Hematology

The General Hematology program offers comprehensive assessments and management for children and adolescents with blood disease including anemias and other abnormalities of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Patients with congenital or acquired hematologic disorders are evaluated and treated in this clinic. Alison Matsunaga, MD is the Director of the General Hematology Program.


Hemostasis and Thrombosis Center

The Hemostasis and Thrombosis Center at Children's provides multidisciplinary, comprehensive care for children with congenital and acquired bleeding disorders. It is a regional Hemophilia Treatment Center. Services include diagnosis, acute and chronic medical management of hemophilia and its complications, genetic counseling, physical therapy, and coordination with other services. Patient and family education, home infusion programs, assessment and treatment of bleeding episodes, community education and outreach, counseling, and family support are important components of this program. Titi Singer, MD directs this program and provides oversight for clinical trials in patients with bleeding or clotting disorders.

Sickle Cell Disease Center

The National Center for Sickle Cell Disease at Children’s Hospital was established in 1978 to deliver comprehensive care to children and adults with sickle cell disease. The center was initially funded by the National Institutes of Health as one of ten Comprehensive Sickle Cell Centers in the U.S. Our experts are leaders in transfusion medicine, and transplantation for sickle cell disease, and care for 600 patients and their families through all stages of their lives—from infancy, through adolescence, to a successful adulthood. There were over 2600 annual visits to our outpatient facilities where we provide comprehensive medical care; assistance with social services needs; psychological consultation; genetic counseling; and education about sickle cell disease and its management. We are active in and lead many national, multicenter clinical trials in sickle cell disease, and internationally, providing our expertise to programs abroad. Anne Marsh, MD is the Director of Pediatric Sickle Cell Program and Ward Hagar, MD is the Director of the Adult Sickle Cell Disease Program. Drs. Marsh and Hagar work together with a multidisciplinary team to provide comprehensive clinical services and access to clinical trials for patients from newborns to seniors, and also collaborate on a transition program.

Thalassemia Center

The Northern California Thalassemia Center at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital was established in 1991 to deliver comprehensive care to the growing number of thalassemia patients in the region. With more than 200 patients on active follow-up and over 1000 patient visits every year, the center is one of the largest thalassemia programs in the country. It is one of the few NIH-funded centers in the nation. We are also at the forefront of research to develop new treatments for thalassemia. Benioff Children’s offers families a range of therapies to monitor and enhance hemoglobin levels, maintain and improve iron chelation therapy, and provide support for patients and their families with thalassemia. Our renowned thalassemia research program allows us to offer patients and families the most up-to-date and innovative therapies. Our research has led to many advances in thalassemia treatment worldwide and also continues to lead global efforts in the understanding and intervention of children with thalassemia. Ash Lal, MD is the Clinical Director of the Thalassemia Center.

Hemoglobin Reference Laboratory

The Hemoglobin Reference Laboratory at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland has served as the reference laboratory for the California Newborn Screening Follow-up Program since 1973, providing confirmatory diagnostic testing for newborns with hemoglobin disorders such as sickle cell disease and thalassemia. Children’s Hospital hematologists were the first to examine the natural history of the heritable blood disorder hemoglobin H (HbH), which is on the rise in the United States. Patients with hemoglobin H have moderately-severe anemia because of gene defects leading to insufficient production of hemoglobin. Extended study of the evolution of the disease, made possible by newborn screening for the disease in California, has shown all forms of hemoglobin H are manageable, and there is a decreased rate of morbidity if diagnosed at birth. The State of California, using Children’s Hospital Oakland as its reference laboratory, is currently the only state in the country that universally screens all births for Hemoglobin H disease. As a result of this vital service, approximately 1000 newborns with hemoglobin disorders have been diagnosed since the late 1990s. The laboratory is directed by Carolyn Hoppe, MD.

Radiation Oncology

Pediatric radiation oncology services are provided at the Alta Bates Summit Comprehensive Cancer Center in Berkeley, in close cooperation with the pediatric oncology team at Children’s Hospital. The program is directed by James Rembert, MD, a member of the Children’s Oncology Group and its predecessors since 1984. The radiation oncologists participate in the Tumor Board as well as the fellowship training program. A large, on-site physics group utilizes state-of-the-art technology and planning systems to deliver the newest forms of radiation treatment, including image-guided intensity modulated radiation, stereotactic ablative body radiotherapy, and total body irradiation for stem cell transplant preparation. Pediatric anesthesia is available when sedation is necessary.

Early Phase/Novel Therapeutics Oncology Program

The Early Phase/Novel Therapeutics Oncology Program at Children’s provides local

Tumor Board

The oncology Tumor Board is a meeting in which a number of healthcare experts in different specialties review a patient’s medical condition and discuss treatment options to plan the most effective treatment for the patient. Our highly trained cancer specialists who participate in the Tumor Board conferences at Children’s Cancer & Blood Diseases Center include:

  • Pediatric Oncologists (who provide oversight and lead the team regarding best treatment approach)
  • Pediatric Surgeons
  • Radiation Oncologists
  • Radiologists
  • Oncology Nurses
  • Pathologists
  • Social workers
  • Psychologists and Neuropsychologist

Tumor Boards are recognized by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer as an essential component of excellence in cancer care.The Tumor Board is chaired by Jennifer Michlitsch, MD.

Palliative Care Program

Children’s Palliative Care Program provides care for children with life-limiting conditions, focusing on enhancing the quality of life and relieving suffering for the child, family members and other significant people in the child’s life. The program provides physicians, nurses, patients and their families with expert consultation and support for the end of life care, chronic pain, bereavement and psychosocial assistance. The hospital’s palliative care team works closely with home nursing agencies and the George Mark Children's House to transition patients to home or respite care when appropriate.


Research Programs

 

Clinical Research Studies

Bone Density Assessment & Research Program

Low bone mass is a significant problem in patients with hemoglobinopathies, with approximately 50-70% of adults with thalassemia and 40-80% of adults with sickle cell disease presenting with low bone mass. As therapy has improved, patients with thalassemia and sickle cell disease are living longer and are now at increased risk for debilitating bone pain, fracture and decreased the quality of life. Our clinical and research staff perform both traditional scanning protocols (spine, hip & whole body) by dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA), as well as full lateral spine scans to detect vertebral height abnormalities often before a patient complains of pain. Additionally, we utilize a three-dimensional scanning tool called quantitative computed tomography (pQCT) to measure bone density and strength in patient-directed research. We are currently undertaking studies to assess different approaches to enhancing bone formation, including the characterization of physical activity patterns in patients with hemoglobinopathies and the use of vibration platforms, calcium, vitamin D, and zinc supplementation.

Iron Assessment and Research Program

Children’s Hospital is home to the only SQUID (Superconducting QUantum Interference Device) biosusceptometer (Ferritometer) in the United States which serves a clinical population. SQUID biosusceptometry measures the liver iron concentration (LIC). Iron overload is a potential life-threatening problem in a variety of diseases including sickle cell disease, thalassemia, BMT recipients, hemochromatosis, myelodysplasia, and other heavily transfused populations. LIC is commonly measured by liver biopsy. SQUID biosuceptometry is a non-invasive, validated measurement of LIC that provides our experts with critical information for the management of patients over time. It can be done in very young patients without sedation or discomfort. Over the last decade, the SQUID biosusceptometer at Oakland has performed over 2000 measurements on over 800 local and international patients at risk for iron-overload.

Cancer Research

The Center for Cancer Research (CCR) at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI) is committed to improving upon existing knowledge regarding all aspects of pediatric oncology, and translating these insights into meaningful advances in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of pediatric malignancies. The CCR fosters invaluable collaboration between clinicians and basic scientists in order to provide the highest standard of translational research and care. In this environment, clinicians provide basic scientists with information regarding the most critical challenges in diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment in pediatric oncology, so they may focus their research on answering those challenges.


Children's Oncology Group - Cancer Research & Clinical Trials

Designated as a Children’s Oncology Group facility, Children’s Hospital Oakland is involved in leading-edge cancer research and clinical trials. The Children's Oncology Group is a National Cancer Institute supported clinical trials group, is the world’s largest organization devoted exclusively to childhood and adolescent cancer research. The COG unites more than 7,500 experts in childhood cancer at more than 200 leading children’s hospitals, universities, and cancer centers across North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe in the fight against childhood cancer. Carla Golden, MD  serves as the site’s Principal Investigator and oversees a team of clinical research associates and nurses to ensure access to trials and high-quality care.

Hematology Research

Millions of children worldwide suffer from the debilitating complications and shortened life-expectancies associated with sickle cell disease and thalassemia. Already nationally and internationally recognized for excellence in patient therapies and research, the Center for Sickle Cell Disease and Thalassemia at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI), is a global leader in advancing the scientific knowledge of these debilitating blood diseases. It is among the most comprehensive clinical and research centers in the world—housing the only not-for-profit Sibling Donor Cord Blood Program in the world, and offering access to national protocols in blood and marrow transplant that aim to cure children with the deadliest presentation of these blood disorders.

Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Fellowship Education Program


Hematology Oncology Fellowship

The Hematology/Oncology fellowship program at Children’s Hospital accepts two fellows per year for three years of training. Applicants are accepted based on their potential to become successful academic clinicians and researchers in Pediatric Hematology and Oncology. Candidates are assessed on their academic credentials, communication skills, and personal qualities such as motivation and integrity.

Read more about: Hematology/Oncology Fellowship Program