Meet the staff at Docrates Cancer Center – Introducing Chief Physician of Medical Oncology Tuomo Alanko6.7.2023 Categories: News
Research led to the world of oncology
Prior to his doctoral dissertation in 2001, Tuomo Alanko worked as a cell scientist in biomedicine at the Haartman Institute under the University of Helsinki. He studied how molecules that regulate cells and environmental factors affect programmed cell death, an important physiological mechanism that prevents cancer and destroys cancer cells. Alanko was led to oncology by cell research because a cell biologist understands how a cancer cell “thinks”. Therefore, immediately after completing his doctoral thesis, he decided to specialise at the University of Helsinki and graduated as a specialist from the Department of Oncology at the Helsinki University Central Hospital in 2005.
– I stayed on that road, and I haven’t regretted it, Tuomo says.
Although Tuomo gained experience with gastrointestinal cancers and their treatment during his specialisation studies, in 2008, he decided to see the other side of the drug trials as well. As a result, he worked as a specialist physician at AstraZeneca for a year, becaming familiar with the practices and policies of the pharmaceutical industry.
One day, Timo Joensuu, one of the founders of Docrates Cancer Center, asked Tuomo if he would be interested in working for Docrates. Tuomo accepted and has worked as Chief Physician of Medical Oncology at Docrates since 2009 – that is, since the Saukonpaadenranta Hospital was completed. At Docrates, Tuomo specialises in chemotherapy and clinical trials. While he treats a wide range of cancers, a significant part of his patients are those suffering from colorectal cancer or, for example, breast cancer.
The most significant studies in which Alanko has been involved during his time at Docrates Cancer Center are the major Finnish FinHer study (effect of trastuzumab on the recurrence risk of breast cancer) and the study of oncolytic virotherapy developed by Professor Akseli Hemminki’s team. Alanko wants Docrates to be both a successful research centre, especially in early-stage drug trials, and a trusted and desired partner. In order to promote this goal, Tuomo believes that research into new drugs and treatments is particularly important for Docrates Cancer Center.
Working together against cancer
On a normal day, Tuomo comes to work before eight o’clock and immediately reviews the information of the patients arriving for an appointment that day. Tuomo’s working days also often include various meetings. In the mornings, Tuomo usually has appointments with patients currently in treatment, whereas in the afternoon, it is time for the first appointments of new patients. In between, Tuomo handles research-related paperwork, administrative work and so on. According to Tuomo, the physicians also set aside time in their calendars on a daily basis for nurses to consult them, if necessary.
– An oncologist uses their personality in their work. In that sense, the job resembles that of a psychiatrist,” Tuomo says. “In addition, when it comes to drugs that can have both positive and negative effects that can be quite dramatic, you need to be careful and flexible as well as somewhat quick. On the other hand, the ability to stay calm and not make hasty decisions is an excellent skill.
– Cancer is, after all, a clever adversary. A physician must understand that, despite great treatment results, not every solution is suitable for everyone. For example, drugs that, on average, are useful and beneficial can unexpectedly cause negative side effects in some patients. Therefore, it is especially important to understand and acknowledge that you do not know everything and, if necessary, to consult and ask a colleague. The opinions and wishes of the patient must also be respected.
For Tuomo, the philosophy of Docrates, focusing on the patient’s individual, human experience means listening and being aware of and accepting the patient’s mindset.
– It’s like working together against cancer, Tuomo says. “The most rewarding thing about this work is that the patients are very grateful for even the smallest help.
In his free time, Tuomo likes to spend time at a summerhouse with his family and enjoys running and scuba diving. He also finds joy in the family’s pets; a cat and a dog who accompanies Tuomo on his runs.
The development of cancer treatments is taking historical leaps
Docrates Cancer Center was founded in 2009. A great deal of progress has happened since the early days. Tuomo agrees that a surprisingly large amount of development can happen in such a short time.
–The activities of Docrates have evolved tremendously in the past 15 years. For example, we’ve introduced various new methods of treatment and completely new pharmacotherapies that no one new anything about only 10 years ago. Even though it seems that progress in cancer treatment is slow, when you look at a timeframe like this, you notice that it is actually quite fast. The activities have also increased and we have welcomed many wonderful new colleagues. Not only physicians but also excellent nurses whose ideology and ways of working are a perfect match for Docrates.
Tuomo encourages Docrates’ patients to actively participate in drug trials as they help effectively find new treatments and cures for cancer.
– Generally speaking, the development of chemotherapy, in particular, is taking historical leaps at the moment. This is largely why I support and encourage participation in drug trials because participants can genuinely contribute to the development of treatments, Tuomo concludes.