As an oncologist at University of Colorado Hospital, Jennifer Diamond, MD, cares for patients with all stages of breast and gynecological cancers. They come to her clinic from all walks of life in search of the latest and best in clinical care. What they may not expect is just how dedicated Dr. Diamond is to building a strong relationship that addresses the emotional impact of a cancer diagnosis.
“I try to bring compassion and humanism into my day-to-day practice and see every patient as a person first. I try to listen to them and really open my mind to understand where they are coming from,” she said.
This empathic approach helps her provide the best possible care for every eventuality, including the more difficult situations such as end of life care and the transition to hospice. Although she always remains professional, Dr. Diamond says it’s important that she get to know her patients well.
“I’m really fortunate that my patients share so much with me as their provider,” she said. “I give my patients hugs, and I get to know their significant others and children … I’ve learned that there are similarities between people no matter what. We may come from differing socioeconomic backgrounds or ethnicities but there are common human values.”
Dr. Diamond is also a lead researcher for UCH’s phase 1 clinical trials program, developing new drugs and treatments for patients whose cancer is resistant to standard treatment.
“It’s really inspiring to see something that you worked on for so long in the lab and in early clinical trials make it into a treatment that can be delivered to patients and improve their outcomes,” she said.
UCH has one of the largest phase 1 clinical trials programs in the country, receiving referrals from across Colorado, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska and Missouri. Phase 1 trials are largely drug safety studies, looking at whether a new treatment is safe to use over a range of doses.
“The common misconception about early phase clinical trials is that the drugs are unlikely to work or that they are unproven therapies,” Dr. Diamond said. “But we are able to do genomic studies and understand the biology of cancer. We have the ability to improve patient outcomes.”
Although there is no cure for metastatic cancer, Dr. Diamond’s goal is to extend patients’ lives and improve overall quality of life.
“I want to help my patients feel as good as possible for as long as possible, and have them on the best therapy to control their disease,” she said. “Phase 1 trials force you to think outside the box, to be creative and find another treatment option that could be effective. That might mean treatments that are personalized to a genomic characteristic of the cancer, or those with a side effect profile that fits with the patient’s wishes.”
However, it can be challenging to find appropriate trials, especially when patients are experiencing several medical complications. Dr. Diamond explains that she is grateful for the phase 1 team, which comprises clinical research coordinators, research nurses, physicians and nurse practitioners.
“We really rely on the whole team to try to do what’s best for the patient, as it can be complicated to manage the side effects of an investigative drug,” she said.
Tom Purcell, MD, executive medical director of cancer services, said Dr. Diamond’s work stretches far beyond the phase 1 team.
“Dr. Diamond is making a tremendous contribution to the Cancer Center,” he said. “She has also chaired the Data Safety Monitoring Committee for the entire CU Cancer Center, implementing various process improvement projects to improve our ability to conduct research in an efficient, safe way.”
Looking toward the future, this year Dr. Diamond is starting a new women’s cancer program that aims to increase the number of clinical trial opportunities for patients with metastatic breast and gynecological cancers. The goal is to help coordinate patient care and make it a more positive experience.
“The women’s cancer program has a whole-person approach and the goal of offering cutting-edge therapies for patients with refractory cancers. We also plan to do palliative care programs,” she said. “It’s a real privilege to have the opportunity and ability to advance the field and develop well-tolerated cancer therapies for the future. As long as my patients need new treatments, I’ll keep trying to develop them.”
Thousands of people volunteer for clinical trials each year at the School of Medicine. Some offer payment; others give free health exams and follow-up.
View the CU Clinical Trials Website for volunteer opportunities.