Collaborating to treat pediatric cancer patients

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Jennifer Huang, MD, FAAD
Dermatologist, Boston Children’s Hospital

  male-doctor-icon.png Learn more from the oncologist's perspective

dr. huang's story

When I started working as a dermatology fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital in 2011, I began working closely with pediatric oncologists to help treat patients and conduct research.

One patient of mine—a 12-year-old boy—was referred to me after receiving a stem cell transplant. His eczema seemed to be worsening even though he was being treated with topical ointments. When I examined him, even though there were areas that were red and scaly, he had areas that suggested early, but serious, sclerotic graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). GVHD occurs when the donor cells attack the patient’s cells and can be life-threatening if undiagnosed and untreated. I connected with his oncologist and together we were able to promptly treat his condition. His GVHD symptoms would have eventually been recognized, but likely much later, and the outcome may have been much worse.

We created a dermatology clinic in coordination with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to help transplant patients like him. Transplant patients often get rashes from their treatment in preparation for a transplant, and afterwards may be at risk for skin infections and GVHD. Following transplantation, patients may take immunosuppressive drugs to treat GVHD—which puts them at higher risk for skin cancer. They also may have long term changes to their skin including hair loss and scarring.  Dermatologists and oncologists work hand-in-hand to navigate the best treatment for a patient pre- and post-organ transplantation.

The relationships between dermatologists and oncologists continue to strengthen, and so does the positive impact on patients. Our collaboration helps to ease what is a difficult time in patients’ lives.

The oncologist's perspective

jennifer-whangbo.jpg Dr. Huang has a specific interest in bone marrow transplant patients and often travels to our clinic to see our patients. We work closely together because when patients are undergoing a transplant, they are at higher risk for skin diseases. Her presence in our clinic makes it more convenient for the patient and family to be seen in one location, as well as to be treated quickly and effectively from the outset.

– Jennifer Whangbo, MD, PhD
Oncologist, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Boston Children’s Hospital