Hematology/oncology group adds another specialist
A college course in the genetics of cancer and a desire to help people led Susan Spiller, M.D., into the field of pediatric hematology/oncology a decade ago, while a love for the mountains brought her to East Tennessee and Children’s Hospital this summer. In June, Dr. Spiller joined the pediatric hematology/oncology practice of Ray Pais, M.D.; Shahid Malik, M.D.; and John Stephen Corns, D.O.; at Children’s Hospital.
Dr. Spiller was drawn to pediatric hematology because she felt there was a tremendous need in the field to help these very sick young patients. Unlike adult oncology, however, the majority of children with cancer are long-term survivors. She also liked the aspect of being able to work with parents. “Parents are advocates on your side,” she said. “Even if a patient doesn’t want to do what you are asking, you have a cheerleader at home on your side” – the parents who want their child to be cured.
Dr. Spiller grew up in the mountains and hills of upstate New York and loves that area of the country. But much of her family is in the south, so that drew her to this region. When she met with the hematology/oncology practice here, she was impressed with how happy everyone seemed. “I want to raise my children where people are happy, where I can have job satisfaction, and where we can go to the mountains whenever we want to,” she said, explaining the main reasons why Children’s Hospital was a perfect fit.
Diagnoses for patients referred to a pediatric hematologist/oncologist include all types of cancers and blood problems, such as neutropenia, anemia, thrombocytopenia (low platelets) and sickle cell disease. Some patients' needs involve making a diagnosis and providing education, while others require significant care. Children with sickle cell disease, for example, require ongoing health maintenance to prevent such serious complications as infections and strokes. Most cancer patients require treatment and long-term follow up evaluations.
The most common types of cancer in children are leukemias, lymphomas, brain tumors and other solid tumors, rather than common adult cancers of the lung, breast, prostate and colon. Treatment for cancer has improved in recent years due in large part to cooperative groups working together to share information and ideas for making treatments more effective and less toxic. Additionally, better imaging techniques using CT, MRI and PET scans enable more precise staging and earlier detection of recurrence. New cancer drugs are being developed every day that target cancer cells and spare normal tissue, yielding better success rates. Better antibiotics to fight risky infections and improve prevention in individuals with decreased immunity due to chemotherapy, and safe, available blood for transfusions are also helping to improve cancer care.
The flip side of improved care is the challenge of telling parents their child has cancer. “It’s always difficult to tell because it’s devastating to the parents, whether the cancer is treatable or not,” Dr. Spiller said. “I work hard to provide parents with really good information so they understand their child’s diagnosis and know what to worry about as well as what they don’t have to worry about.”
Dr. Spiller is particularly interested in brain tumors. “I have done a lot of research in brain tumors, which has helped me to understand the unique challenges that face this population of patients,” she said. “I like to think this helps me anticipate potential problems that can be prevented or prepare families if prevention isn't possible. Kids with brain tumors are a really special set of people, and I really love working with them."
The pediatric hematology/oncology group at Children’s Hospital is a member of the Children’s Oncology Group (COG). This organization of more than 200 member institutions worldwide conducts clinical trials and performs research to identify cancer causes and pioneer treatments and cures. Because of this affiliation, Children’s is able to offer the same treatment regimens as other Children’s Oncology Group institutions for most types of childhood cancer. Among the more well-known of the COG member institutions are Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City; Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.; St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis; and Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville.
Children’s Hospital welcomes Dr. Spiller to our pediatric referral center and looks forward to working with her in providing hematology/oncology care to this region’s children.
Susan Spiller, M.D.
B.S. (Molecular Genetics) – University of Rochester, Rochester, N.Y., 1988
M.D. – Albany Medical College, Albany, N.Y., 1995
Internship (Pediatrics) – Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio, Texas, 1995-96
Residency (Pediatrics) – Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Hershey, Pa., 1999-2001
Fellowship (Pediatric Hematology/Oncology) – Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center/University of Washington/Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Wash., 2001-04
Other – United States Navy, Medical Corps, 1996-99; clinical/research junior faculty position, Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center/University of Washington/Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Wash., 2004-06; assistant professor of pediatrics, The Children’s Hospital at University of Alabama, Birmingham, 2006-11
Family – Husband, Richard Spiller; four children: Brennan (8), Jalen (6), Molly (4) and Megan (2)
Personal interests – Hiking, biking, running, baking, spending time with family