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Montefiore in the News

May 20, 2024

Montefiore Einstein Comprehensive Cancer Center Celebrates 200 Outpatient Desensitization Procedures, Enabling Patients to Stay on Optimal Therapy

NEW YORK, NY, May 20, 2024 -- What happens when you have cancer, but are allergic to the most effective medication to treat your disease?

Approximately 10% of people diagnosed with cancer experience hypersensitivity reactions (HSRs) to certain therapies—which range from a mild skin rash to anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction)—even when they were pretreated with antihistamines and steroids. To address this issue, patients with HSRs are often referred for chemotherapy desensitization treatment that requires a series of overnight stays in a hospital intensive care unit (ICU).

The NCI-designated Montefiore Einstein Comprehensive Cancer Center (MECCC) offers a better approach: an outpatient cancer therapy desensitization program. The program—the only one in the New York City area—has completed 200 such procedures, allowing patients to complete optimal treatments within recommended timeframes and avoid the hospital.

“When someone is diagnosed with cancer, the last thing they need to learn is that they are allergic to the medication that will best treat their disease,” says Jessica Oh, M.D., director, Montefiore Drug Allergy Center, assistant professor of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and a member of MECCC. “Every patient who has been referred to our program has successfully completed treatment, which is a testament to the close collaboration between allergy, oncology, pharmacy, nursing, and the medical ICU teams. I hope that hitting this milestone demonstrates that outpatient desensitization programs should become the new standard in comprehensive cancer care.”

Cancer Therapy Allergic Reactions & Treatment

Taxane-based chemotherapies that include Paclitaxel, Docetaxel, Abraxane, and Taxotere are among the most effective and commonly used therapies for several types of cancers, including breast and prostate cancer. They are also widely used to reduce secondary tumors from occurring. These treatments, however, cause allergic reactions in approximately 10% of people.

Platinum agents, like oxaliplatin, carboplatin, and cisplatin, are effective cancer therapies, used alone and in combination with other drugs. However, up to 25% of the time, people experience allergic reactions to their platinum chemotherapy, typically occurring between the six and ninth cycle of treatment.

The chemotherapy desensitization process creates a temporary drug tolerance for each infusion treatment by slowly increasing the doses of drugs every 15 minutes over the course of five to seven hours, depending on the individual patient and the specific cancer drug. This procedure is closely overseen by Dr. Oh and a registered nurse who specializes in chemotherapy infusion treatments, ensuring the patient safely receives each full dose.

When a patient is identified as potentially having an allergic reaction to a chemotherapy drug, they are referred to the allergy desensitization program for an evaluation, which includes a skin test and all thorough medical history. If a patient is a potential candidate, treatment begins within approximately a week. The chemotherapy desensitization program is available to patients receiving cancer treatment at MECCC or at another treatment center.

“I had a bad anaphylactic allergic reaction when I started chemotherapy; my blood pressure dropped, my lips went numb, my tongue swelled,and I felt like I was going to pass out,” said Virginia Brehaut. “Even though I still had a reaction in the chemotherapy desensitization program, I didn’t think twice about it since I was able to get the cancer medicine I needed. I would do anything to fight for my life, and Dr. Oh was my miracle who helped me do that.”

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About Montefiore Einstein Comprehensive Cancer Center

Montefiore Einstein Comprehensive Cancer Center (MECCC) is a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated comprehensive cancer center and a national leader in cancer research and clinical care located in the racially and ethnically diverse borough of the Bronx, N.Y. MECCC combines the exceptional science of Albert Einstein College of Medicine with the multidisciplinary and team-based approach to cancer clinical care at Montefiore Health System. Founded in 1971 and an NCI-designated cancer center since 1972, MECCC is redefining excellence in cancer research, clinical care, education and training, and community outreach and engagement. Its mission is to reduce the burden of cancer for all, especially people from historically underrepresented groups.