Younger Generations of Oncologists, Older Patients with Cancer: Dr. John M. Bennett Awarded for Aiding Understanding across the Age Divide
|John M. Bennett, MD
By all accounts, America is an aging population. Doctors will face significant challenges in caring for the growing numbers of people ages 65 and older. But thanks to John M. Bennett, MD, they are more prepared to meet those challenges than ever before.
For more than 2 decades, Dr. Bennett has advocated for the integration of geriatrics into the study and practice of oncology. For his leadership and dedication to the field, ASCO is pleased to honor Dr. Bennett as the 2011 recipient of the B.J. Kennedy Award and Lecture for Scientifi c Excellence in Geriatric Oncology. Dr. Bennett will give his lecture, “Enhancing geriatric oncology training to care for elders with malignancies,” today 4:45 PM – 6:00 PM, Room S100bc, South Building.
The B.J. Kennedy Award honors individuals who have demonstrated outstanding leadership or who have contributed outstanding scientific work of major importance to the field of geriatric oncology. The award is named for ASCO Past President B.J. Kennedy, MD, FACP, a pioneer in the field.
Dr. Bennett is Professor Emeritus of Medicine, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. He is a hematologist by training, and joined the faculty of the University of Rochester as head of the division of hematology/oncology at the Highland Hospital in 1969. In 1974, he became the Clinical Director of the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Wilmot Cancer Center, a position he held for 20 years. In this role, he learned more about how a person’s age affected their experience with cancer and cancer care.
|“What we wanted to do was develop a whole new generation
of young faculty who would be able to instruct medical
oncologists, house staff, and medical students in the
intricacies of how to care for older patients with cancer.”
— John M. Bennett, MD
“I became increasingly aware that there were attitudes that were applied differently to individuals who were older and to individuals who were younger,” Dr. Bennett said in an interview with ASCO Daily News.
Oncologists began to understand that cancer varied biologically for people of different ages, and that certain treatments were not appropriate for older patients. Dr. Bennett was alarmed, however, by how little oncologists knew about how to treat their older patients and by how little cancer research focused on the specifi c needs of the elderly.
“Most of the data that we generated on how good a program was on treating a cancer were basically in very fit individuals who were young or middle aged,” Dr. Bennett said. “Then you try to apply that information to someone who is older and often a disaster resulted.”
Dr. Bennett and his colleagues felt the root of this problem lay in the education of young medical oncologists and hematologists, whose fellowship training focused heavily on certain aspects of cancer care, like diagnoses and pharmacology, but virtually excluded training in geriatrics.
“All of this smoldered for years without a lot of focus by medical oncologists, with the exception of people like Dr. Kennedy and Lodovico Balducci, MD,” Dr. Bennett said. In the late 1990s, Dr. Bennett and his colleagues proposed a solution for the dearth of knowledge of geriatric oncology: a new program that would allow young oncology fellows to train and be certifi ed in both geriatrics and medical oncology. Fellows in the proposed program would complete rotations in geriatric clinics and hospice programs, and also would have dedicated research time to develop programs of cancer care for the unique needs of elderly patients.
“What we wanted to do was develop a whole new generation of young faculty who would be able to instruct medical oncologists, house staff, and medical students in the intricacies of how to care for older patients with cancer,” Dr. Bennett said.
Dr. Bennett was instrumental in securing funding from the John A. Hartford Foundation for the new training program, which was piloted at 12 cancer centers around the United States. After the success of these initial programs, Dr. Bennett formed a special partnership with ASCO to expand the training program. He also convinced the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) to approve the joint program in geriatrics and medical oncology. As a result, the ABIM made certifi cation in geriatrics available to doctors training in all specialties.
Outside of this work, Dr. Bennett has many achievements in both geriatric oncology and hematology. He was a founding member of the International Society for Geriatric Oncology and, from 1994-2010, served as the first chair of the Myelodysplastic Syndromes Foundation. He has authored more than 500 scholarly articles, including several books, and currently is Editor of Leukemia Research. Dr. Bennett said the field of geriatric oncology will face many challenges in a time of increasing numbers of patients and tight budgets.
He is encouraged, however, that more oncologists than ever before are focusing on the unique needs of older patients.
“Geriatricians have made great strides in persuading and convincing medical students and medical schools of the importance of understanding geriatrics and how geriatrics applies to all kinds of diseases,” he said. “Our progress has been tremendous.”