Immune to Cancer: The CRI Blog




How do you help patients find their hope?

As an oncology nurse working on clinical trials at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, Cynthia Knauer, R.N., has a wealth of experience explaining the ins and outs of immunotherapy to patients. She witnesses, firsthand, the administration of immunotherapies, and is intimately aware of patients’ needs, concerns, and questions.

The specific patient population that nurse Knauer works with is men with prostate cancer. Often, by the time these patients step into her clinic, they have already had surgery to remove their prostates and their PSA levels are once again rising. They are therefore looking for additional treatment options to stem the tide of advancing disease.

One option is immunotherapy. Today, there is one FDA-approved immunotherapy for the treatment of prostate cancer, and several others in the clinical pipeline. The FDA-approved immunotherapy is called Provenge® (sipuleucel-T), made by Dendreon. Provenge is a dendritic cell-based therapeutic cancer vaccine designed to enlist the immune system in the fight against prostate cancer. Other immunotherapies in development include a variety of therapeutic cancer vaccines, such as GVAX and PROSTVAC®, as well as checkpoint inhibitors.

For Knauer, working with prostate cancer patients affords her the opportunity to bring together a number of different interests. "After working with women at risk for or who had breast cancer, I was drawn to see how men dealt with cancer and the side effects of treatments. There were similarities between hormone-based cancers, but enough differences that I was learning new things."

The daughter of a surgical oncologist, Knauer says she was never afraid of cancer or healthcare, and naturally gravitated to nursing in college. She chose nursing over medicine because she found it a better fit for her approach to health and wellness. "I preferred the continuity of care that nurses have with their patients, and the wellness model that is used to encourage healthy behaviors and to promote recovery, rather than the medical diagnosis model of medicine."

Knauer first became interested in clinical trials while working at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York where clinical research is standard. Her focus at that time was breast cancer prevention and treatment. "I was drawn to studying potential new treatments, the science and regulatory control behind the trials, and caring for the individuals on the trials," she says.

One thing that is clear to anyone who speaks with nurse Knauer is how effective she is at communicating complex information simply and clearly. She is a gifted teacher and enjoys exercising this skill. "The favorite part of my job is teaching," she says. "Whether it be teaching patients new ways to care for themselves, teaching nurses new techniques, or teaching colleagues about research that we are doing." Watch her video and see for yourself.

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