Is immunotherapy an option for you? Alex Spira, MD, PhD, FACP

Virginia Cancer Specialists Practice Blog

November 14, 2019
Virginia Cancer Specialists » VCS Practice News » Blog Post » Is immunotherapy an option for you? Alex Spira, MD, PhD, FACP

Immunotherapy is a new treatment option with very promising results.  It offers an alternative to chemo and radiation therapy for cancer patients—but does that mean it’s right for you? It’s important to learn the ins and outs of the new therapy before deciding it’s the right move.

Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment option that utilizes the body’s own defenses—the immune system—to treat cancer. Because immunotherapy works differently than other treatment options, it comes with a new set of side effects.  While patients don’t have to experience the negative side effects that often come with traditional chemotherapy or radiation, they need to be aware of the different potentially long-term side effects that can come with the new therapy.

It’s also important to note that immunotherapy can be an extremely effective treatment—but it’s not for everyone.  Immunotherapies are treatments targeted for cancers with very specific genetic markers.  While they will likely be effective for those cancers, they can’t be used across a wide variety of cancers like some chemotherapies and radiation treatments can.  This means that immunotherapies are for a very specific subset of the patient population.  Right now, they are a strong option for melanoma and thoracic cancers.

Fortunately, we live in an exciting time where immunotherapy treatments are becoming more widely available thanks to clinical trials.  Many immunotherapies are being tested for different types of cancer, and even being tested as first lines of defense.

The existence of immunotherapy, however, doesn’t mean that chemotherapy or radiation treatments are becoming obsolete.  Chemotherapy and radiation are still effective, valid, and potentially life-saving treatment options that may still be your best option as you choose your therapy.

At Virginia Cancer Specialists, we offer many different immunotherapy options.  While immunotherapy isn’t a magic bullet yet, it is still a potentially life-saving therapy for the right candidates.

Dr. Alex Spira earned his medical degree from the New York University School of Medicine. He then went on to complete his internship and residency at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and his medical oncology fellowship at Johns Hopkins Hospital. During his training, Dr. Spira was granted many awards and honors, and he completed several specialized fellowship programs. Among these honors were the National Institutes of Health Medical Scientist Training Program Fellowship (1990-1997), Merck Corporation Scholarship (1995-1995), Pediatric AIDS Foundation Fellowship (1993- 1995) and Harvard University Scholarship (1987-1990). Dr. Spira has also received his PhD from the New York School of Arts and Sciences.

As Director of the Virginia Cancer Specialists (VCS) Research Institute and the Phase I Trial Program, Dr. Spira is actively involved in advancing medicine and offering targeted treatment options for patients. Although his research interests are numerous, Dr. Spira particularly enjoys studying immunotherapy, personalized medicine, GI, thoracic and lung cancer and sarcomas. Dr. Spira is also Co-Chair of the USOncology Thoracic Oncology Committee, Chair of the USOncology Research Executive Committee, and member of the USOncology National Policy Board Executive Committee. Dr. Spira is a faculty member at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and serves as Assistant Professor of Oncology.

Throughout his career, Dr. Spira has been recognized as a Top Doctor in Northern Virginia Magazine and Washingtonian magazine for multiple years. In 2014, he received the prestigious “Castle Connolly America’s Top Doctor” award. In his spare time, Dr. Spira enjoys spending time with his family, coaching children’s sports, cycling, and cheering on his favorite New York sports teams.