Five Questions With: Dr. Thomas J. Miner

Longtime cancer surgeon Dr. Thomas J. Miner was appointed in January as Rhode Island’s state chair for a cancer liaison program run by the American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer. Miner is now among a group of 64 state chairs who oversee more than 1,500 cancer liaison physicians nationwide. Cancer liaison physicians’ responsibilities include analyzing data in their own cancer programs and reporting it through the National Cancer Database. 

Miner, who is chief of surgical oncology at Brown Surgical Associates and a professor of surgery at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, will help to facilitate how statewide or regional cancer data is presented, used and interpreted. 

PBN: Part of your duties as state chair will include working with the American Cancer Society and various state groups, including cancer coalitions and departments of health, “to support data-driven comprehensive cancer control planning throughout Rhode Island.” Could you explain a bit more about what that means? 

MINER: Efforts to support comprehensive cancer control occur at the national, state and local levels. Resources integral to bolstering strategies for sustainable cancer control includes coordination and support from national organizations committed to addressing the burden of cancer, strong partnerships at the state and local levels, funding and resources, evidence-based framework and program guidance, technical assistance, and training opportunities to build capacity.

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Use of appropriate data encourages a more robust understanding of the state’s cancer burden and allows for coordination of efforts in areas, including prevention, research, treatment and end-of-life care, survivorship and advocacy.

Partnership with the American Cancer Society has led to several very interesting policy proposals, including colorectal cancer legislation that is being currently worked on in Rhode Island.

PBN: How long have you been an oncology surgeon, and were you a cancer liaison physician before your appointment as state chair of the Commission on Cancer?   

MINER: I was initially a cancer liaison physician at Darnall Army Medical Center at Fort Hood [in] Texas. Following a fellowship in surgical oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering, I came to Rhode Island and have been in practice here for 20 years.

PBN: Are there any things that the American College of Surgeons has on its nationwide radar that could reduce the number of cancer cases and death rates? 

MINER: The Commission on Cancer is a consortium of professional organizations dedicated to improving survival and quality of life for cancer patients through standard-setting, prevention, research, education and the monitoring of comprehensive quality care.

The multidisciplinary CoC establishes standards to ensure quality, multidisciplinary and comprehensive cancer care delivery in health care settings; conducts surveys in health care settings to assess compliance with those standards; collects standardized data from CoC-accredited health care settings to measure cancer care quality; uses data to monitor treatment patterns and outcomes and enhance cancer control and clinical surveillance activities; and develops effective educational interventions to improve cancer prevention, early detection, cancer care delivery and outcomes in health care settings.

CoC accreditation encourages hospitals, treatment centers and other facilities to improve their quality of care through various cancer-related activities.

PBN: How important is it to take a coordinated approach to fight cancer, and is that idea a fairly new one?

MINER: A coordinated approach to fighting cancer is not a new one. I first got involved in cancer advocacy as a child and helped the American Cancer Society lobby Congress during the Nixon administration’s “War on Cancer.” National, regional and local efforts have continued and are probably associated with improved cancer-related death rates over the past two decades.

In addition to sustained efforts in research, prevention and treatment, it has become increasingly clear that much greater focus on equity is an essential component of a coordinated approach to cancer care. Advances in cancer care must include and be available to every member of our society in order to win this fight.

PBN: Will you still be able to see patients during your three-year term as state chair? 

MINER: Yes, my clinical practice will remain unchanged.

Elizabeth Graham is a PBN contributing writer.

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