Is a Clinical Trial Right for You?

Iowa Cancer Specialists is committed to bringing our patients the best treatment options possible.  This is why we partner with the Genesis Health System to offer many clinical trials available for patients in our community.  Through Genesis, ICS has access to approximately 25 clinical trials offered locally.

Clinical trial are studies designed by researchers to offer new ways to either treat cancer, find and diagnose cancer, prevent cancer, and/or manage the symptoms and side effects of treatment.

Before a trial is offered to patients  researchers spend years in the laboratory evaluating the trial at the cellular level and on laboratory animals.

Patients on clinical trials help researchers determine the safe dosage of treatment, record side effects,  and evaluate how the trial compares to current forms of treatment.

ICS has the support of  Genesis with research nurse Kim Turner, RN MSN to make sure all trials are approved and monitored by the Genesis Health System Institutional Review Board (IRB) as there are many guidelines to follow.  These study guidelines are called protocols.  The protocol dictates who is eligible for the study, how often drugs and treatment are to be given,  and how often tests like laboratory workup and imaging need to be performed.

As mentioned, each clinical trial’s protocol directs who can participate. The criteria often includes, but is not limited to–

  • the type and stage of the patient’s cancer,
  • patient’s age group
  • patient’s genetic history,
  • patient’s health status.

Like all treatments, there is a cost involved.  Hopefully insurances will cover the patient care costs which include doctor visits, standard cancer treatment, drugs to reduce side effects, and laboratory and imaging studies.

However, often with a study extra doctor visits along with extra laboratory and imaging workup is required to evaluate the study’s efficacy.  These costs may be paid for by the sponsor of the study.

A patient is never enrolled in a study without their knowledge.  Patient rights are protected and each patient must sign an informed consent.  If you are considering taking part in a clinical trial,  we encourage you to ask questions such as–

  • What is the purpose of the study?
  • What are the goals?
  • What are the potential risks and side effects?
  • How long will be I be on the study?
  • What is the protocol?
  • What costs am I responsible for?
  • Whatever questions and concerns you may have.

If there is not a trial available to you locally and you wish to explore this option, a search can be done for treatment elsewhere.

By choosing to take part in a clinical trial, you are taking an active part in your treatment which may, in effect, help others in their cancer journey.

However, a trial is a trial–it is not a guarantee that the treatment is better than the current standard of care.  But, it may be better than the standard of care.  As with any type of treatment, some treatments that are effective with one person may not be effective for another.

And please know,  you may leave the study at any time.

Before you agree to a study, research all your treatment options.  An informed patient is a powerful one.

Fighting Cancer with Man’s Best Friend

We’ve all heard stories of dogs saving lives whether it be alerting a family to a house fire, protecting their owner from an intruder, or saving a child from a vicious animal attack.  Now, dogs are assisting in another lifesaving way–aiding in the fight against cancer.

At twenty-two sites across the United States, clinical trials are taking place on dogs with cancer. Please note, these trials are held on dogs who have developed the disease naturally and whose owners are seeking a cure for their pet.  The cancer is not given experimentally as is most often the case with laboratory mice.

Cancer is the number one cause for death in older dogs, and the majority of cancers seen in dogs closely resemble the cancers that affect people–including their biological behavior, where it spreads, and the speed in which the cancer grows.  This is why “comparative oncology” has  recently emerged as a promising means to help cure cancer. Comparative oncology researchers study the similarities between naturally occurring cancers in dogs and cancers in people in order to provide clues on how to treat cancer more effectively.

At its core, cancer is a genetic disease.  Each breed of dog (over 400 recognized) has its own unique set of genes, and different breeds of dogs are predisposed to different types of cancer.  For example, lymphoma is more likely to affect golden retrievers.  Squamous cell carcinoma is found more often in standard poodles (but only those with black hair). Invasive bladder cancer is more likely to be found in Scotties, Westies, and Shelties.  Brain cancer (glioma) is more likely to be found in terriers, boxers, and bulldogs.  An aggressive type of bone cancer that affects children called osteosarcoma is also found in large dog breeds such as Great Danes and German shepherds.

Humans and dogs are also especially similar when it comes to the immune system.  Immunotherapy, which uses the immune system to fight cancer, has been effective in dog trials which is promising for humans.  When a trial is successful in a dog, it can move on to a human trial.  As of now four drugs have made it to a human trial.  Sutent, which is sometimes prescribed for advanced kidney cancer, is one such drug. And in 2010, the vaccine known as ONCEPT became the first cancer vaccine to be approved in the United States.  According to Jedd D. Wolchok, M.D., Ph.D., the chief of the Melanoma and Immunotherapeutics Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, “There’s no question that the success of the animal trials did a lot to speed up the approval process of the human trials.”

Seems to us, dogs may just be man’s best friend–and women’s, too!

Source Material:  The Veterinary Cancer Resource Center, Cancer Research Institute,, NBC News, CNN

Your First Visit

It’s natural to feel apprehensive on your first visit to an oncologist’s office. We at Iowa Cancer Specialists would like to ease your anxiety and let you know what you can expect.

We are located at Genesis West Medical Center inside the Cancer Center which is just off of the glass atrium.  When you walk through the Cancer Center entry, go to the reception desk on the left side of the room where you will be greeted by one of our friendly receptionists.  Our office should have sent you forms to be filled out in advance, and this is the time to turn them in.  If you forgot to bring the forms, please plan a few extra minutes as you will be asked to fill them out again.  Also, have your insurance cards ready as well as your co-pay.  You will be asked to sign other forms that give us permission to bill your insurance and information on the patient information and privacy act. We strive to keep patient wait time to a minimum.  But, while you do wait, help yourself to the coffee, tea, or water provided in the waiting area.

When the nurse or medical assistant calls your name, you will be ushered into our exam room.  There she will have you step on and off the scale and will take your vitals.  She will ask you questions regarding the reason for your visit, habits you many have, any concerns or current health problems, and family history.

When you see the doctor, he/she will ask you more questions.  Sometimes a full physical exam is required; sometimes not—depending on the diagnosis.   Your referring physician should have sent us your records for our review.  Our doctors will go over this information with you.  We recommend you have a family member or friend with you to help you digest the information covered, as well as as notebook to write down instructions.  Be sure to ask your questions.  We want you to leave our office with all of your questions answered.

Treatment varies from individual to individual.   Of course, you may request a second opinion at any time, and we will be happy to assist you in scheduling one.

Expect our physicians to order lab work.  This is important, especially if chemotherapy is recommended.  Also, CT scans may be ordered.  These are necessary and used to evaluate how well the treatment is working.

Our physicians may order other tests as well.  This is because not all cancers are the same, nor do they respond the same way to treatment.  It is important for us to gather as much information to determine how to best treat you.

For your convenience, we have a lab in our office if blood work is ordered. Also, we have an in-clinic dispensary to assist in filling your prescriptions.

We will keep your referring physician updated on your progress.  We are always available to answer any questions.

Having a cancer diagnosis is stressful enough.  Our goal is to make this journey as easy as possible.


Check out this behind the scenes interview of an important team member of Iowa Cancer Specialists!


Marie - storytelling

Before Marie Tschopp was a transcriptionist for Iowa Cancer Specialists she was a stay at home mom searching for something to express her creativity while earning some money as well.

That led her to joining a storytelling guild and doing presentations for churches, schools and other organizations. Tschopp said her most popular program over the years has been her recreation of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House on the Prairie books.

Now she’s taken her research into the family further by releasing her book on Mary Ingalls, her sister.

“I saw there wasn’t a book on Mary and her time at the blind school,” Tschopp said. “I asked if they would allow me to write one and opened up their archives and was able to put together a book on Mary Ingalls at the blind school.”

The book is available through Amazon and features information on her life at the Iowa College for the Blind and photos that haven’t yet been published.

To put the book together she spent quite a bit of time digging through archives.

“I did a lot of research, I visited Iowa State Historical Society and the Herbert Hoover museum.  They have the Wilder papers so I  went there and did a lot of research,” Tschopp said.

Tschopp said writing the book and presenting as Laura Ingalls allows her to express her creativity and have some fun while doing it.

She’s a member of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association as well and has devoted hours and hours to researching the family for her presentations and book.

Marie has a website at


How did some nurses get to be where they are today?

Ever wonder how the Iowa Cancer Specialists nurses got to be where they are today? We sat down with three of our nurses and asked them why they wanted to be a nurse.

We spoke with Molly Rima, Amber Claussen and our nurse practitioner Katie Browne about what made them want to become nurses.

Molly Rima

Why did you want to become a nurse?

When I was a little girl my grandmother, she took care of me, I didn’t go to preschool or anything and went to her house before Kindergarten.

She was a nurse and was in pediatrics and cardiology and she taught me all the bones in the body before I went to school so that is where it all started and I never wavered. I always wanted to be a nurse since I was four or five years old.

So what was it about your grandmother that made you want to be a nurse?

Everyone always talked about how good she was at her job and how compassionate she was about it and how much she loved her patients. I kind of see that in myself with her, I feel like I’m a very compassionate person and care about people a lot and I think that is a trait you really have to have as a nurse.

Where there any differences in your expectations when you became a nurse?

When you get into nursing school you kind of doubt yourself and wonder if you’re cut out for this. I was signed up to go to the University of Iowa and found out they didn’t do their internships until a year into their program. I was kind of a homebody and I looked into Scott (Community College) and they offered clinicals within the first eight weeks. At that point I was thinking ‘I think I want to be a nurse but I’ve never been in that setting before’ so for me there was no better way than being hands on to know if I really want this.

My first rotation was in a nursing home and I wasn’t sure if I wanted it but as I continued on I realized it was a good fit.

What do you know now that you would tell yourself then?

It’s a learning process, every day you’re learning something new, so if you’re not open to that you’re not in the right profession. I’ve been in this job for 13 years and I learn something new every single day I’m here — drugs are changing, treatment is changing, diseases are becoming more chronic versus acute and people are living longer. You have to know a lot and if you’re not willing to do that it is not the profession for you.


Amber Claussen

Why did you become a nurse?

I wanted to become a nurse since I was in 2nd grade.

What happened in 2nd grade?

I had an aunt that was a nurse and she kind of inspired me to be a nurse.

What was it about her that you looked up to?

All my aunts and uncles are close to us so I saw just saw what she was doing and liked it.

Why have you continued to want to be a nurse?

Because I love taking care of my patients. It gives you a sense of well being, they make you feel good for things you do for them and you try and help them. Especially with our cancer patients you try and help them try and have the best experience in a bad situation.

What would Amber now tell Amber in 2nd grade that wanted to become a nurse?

Good job, you picked the right thing. I wouldn’t change being a nurse ever, especially an oncology nurse. It makes me teary-eyed thinking about it.


Katie Browne

Why did you want to become a nurse?

I actually wanted to be an OB nurse, I had my son early in life. I had a seizure and I was in ICU for like a week and I almost died. The nurses were so nice to me and I didn’t want to be a nurse before that.

When I heard people say they wanted to be a nurse I would think ‘why would you ever want to do that?’ Because I thought all they did was hand doctors scissors. All through high school that was my impression and thought it was the stupidest thing.

But (the nurses there) really helped me a lot because I couldn’t take care of my baby so I felt horrible but the nurses there were really comforting. So I went to school and wanted to be an OB nurse with the goal of being a midwife and I started nursing school. I started as a nursing assistant and they said you can work on cardiology or oncology. At that point I really didn’t even know but oncology sounded more interesting than cardiology and then I started on the oncology unit when I was 19 and I just stayed in oncology ever since.

You can really make a big impact in people’s lives so that is what I like. I wouldn’t change anything (about becoming a nurse practitioner.)

So it was that experience in the hospital and seeing the nurses?

Yes, they were comforting me. I felt like a failure because I couldn’t take care of my baby and they were just letting me know it was okay. They just gave me hope that I would be able to and they just made me feel better about the whole thing. My family was very supportive too but having them there to let me know things were going to be okay and that I didn’t do anything wrong. It was pretty profound.

So it changed you?

Yes, it definitely did.

Anything else?

That’s really what did it, I still love pregnant people and stuff like that too but I never wanted to leave oncology either. You develop deep connections with people and they teach you a lot. You just build really close relationships and it changes your whole perspective on how you view your own life and what is important.


Cancer News Roundup

Welcome to the June cancer news roundup, we’ve got everything from new studies to profiles of some pretty awesome people. So grab your readers if you need ‘em and let’s get going.

A special visit

Luke Eck, a two-year-old with clear cell sarcoma of the kidney, has been undergoing chemotherapy for awhile now and during treatment one of his favorite pastimes is watching the firetrucks pass by.

So some of the staff at the office noticed his obsession with the trucks and reached out to the local fire department. From there they were able to surprise him and let him see a fire truck up close and personal.

Fighting until the end

An Iowa teen’s story is picking up national attention after she fought and completed her goal of graduating high school after her diagnosis.  Allison Cress graduated from Dubuque Hempstead High School on June 3 and passed away on June 5.

According to her obituary, “Allison brought a smile to your face and always kept a positive attitude during her fight with cancer. She was able to have a “Make A Wish” trip to Paris and London.”

Pup with a list

A cancer diagnosis can cause some to take a hard look at their life and break out a bucket list, and while this guy wasn’t the one writing the list he was the one taking part in some pretty cool stuff.

This golden pooch named Mr. Molson has been checking things off including being a police officer for a day and even getting married.

Have you or a family member with a cancer diagnosis done anything bucket list worthy recently? Let us know in the comments.

Three-time survivor

While at a camp for children with cancer and their siblings Joey Renick met someone who eventually would become his wife. This story from People magazine highlights the story of Joey and Caylee and how after three battles with cancer they finally tied the knot.

“I knew he was the one, because being in the hospital with him for so long and seeing him sick, I thought to myself, ‘If I can do this for him and we’re only dating, I can do this forever,’ ” says Caylee. “He inspires me so much, despite everything he’s been through he looks at the bright side of life and his will to live and survive and do more with his life is so strong.”

Check out the full story to see the inspirational couple.

Summer is here!

Now with the heat index climbing about 100 degrees and the sun shining brightly we’ll leave you with some tips from the American Cancer Society on skin cancer prevention and early detection.

Some simple tips from the ACS include using the phrase “slip slop slap and wrap” meaning four quick things.

  • Slip on a shirt.
  • Slop on sunscreen.
  • Slap on a hat.
  • Wrap on sunglasses to protect the eyes and skin around them.


Running for a cause

The charity 5k has exploded in the last decade with races popping up all over to support a designated charity. Cancer organizations have seen a big boost from those, and according to Running in the USA there are almost 500 5k races in the state of Iowa each year!

Are you a runner or a walker? Either one it doesn’t really matter as the goal is to get people signed up and moving towards the finish line.

There’s a few cancer related charities that have races coming up in the next few months and if you want to be a runner now is the perfect time to start training as the weather heats up.

Here are a few (and sorry if we missed your race) races that will be happening this summer in the Quad Cities area:

Relay for Life – Iowa Cancer Specialists happily sponsors the Quad Cities Relay for Life that is just two weeks away! The event from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. will feature cancer survivors and community members raising money. While not a 5k, this event goes towards raising money for the American Cancer Society.

Carol M. Guthrie Memorial 5K Run/Walk – The Carol M. Gurthrie Memorial 5k will be taking place in Anawan, Illinois this year and will proceeds will benefit the Samuels family. The Samuels have a 6-year-old daughter with Leukemia and the money will go towards helping that family.

Walk Out Cancer – The 5k and kids fun run will take place in Savanna, Illinois (just a hour drive from the Quad Cities) on September 16. The race costs $20 with funds going towards the American Cancer Society. This one is a bit away so it’ll give you time to get your conditioning up!

Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure – This one is just over a month away on June 10th and raises money for the Komen foundation. Their website states they have raised nearly $20,000 towards their $100,000 goal this year. You can participate as an individual or get some people together to raise money!

So now that you’ve registered for a race you need a plan to get yourself in gear and in shape before the race. If you’re an inexperienced runner the Couch to 5k program is an easy way to slip into running a 5k, search the App Store on your phone and there will be plenty of apps to choose from as you start.

If you already consider yourself fit, a fun way to keep that way is the Zombies, Run! App that can be downloaded on either Apple or Android phones. Here is a link to their website where it explains that with 200 missions to choose from you’ll always have something new to work with. The jist of the game is that it will guide you through periods of fast and slow as the storyline changes.

Good luck!