University of Vermont Cancer Center Member Profile

    Christopher Anker, MD

    Program Co-Leader, Cancer Host and Environment, UVM Cancer Center

    Full Member
    Cancer Host and Environment (CHE)
    Academic Interests
    The primary focus of my research addresses how to improve patient quality of life through decreasing treatment intensity and/or duration while maintaining the same survival and cancer control outcomes. To accomplish this, I lead large multi-disciplinary teams of key gastrointestinal, lung, skin, and brain cancer providers I have selected to best answer important clinical questions.

    Gastrointestinal Cancer/Rectal Cancer:
    While I have contributed to published national guidelines in the treatment of most gastrointestinal diseases, one area I have focused my research efforts addresses how to employ radiation and chemotherapy to help rectal cancer patients avoid a potentially morbid surgery (non-operative management). The University of Vermont Cancer Center (UVMCC) has partnered with other institutions to explore more efficient/effective ways to deliver this paradigm-changing treatment. We were a top accruer for a multi-institution clinical trial which I helped bring to UVMCC, which provided the opportunity to decrease the number of radiation treatments from 30 given each weekday down to just 5 total. I also have an interest in how to integrate radiation with immunotherapy to provide a synergistic effect leading to improved outcomes.

    Lung Cancer:
    While lung cancer can be an aggressive disease, many elderly patients are diagnosed when being evaluated for other problems and their lung cancer grows slowly or not at all. Funded by multiple-grant sources, our published data from patients treated at UVM as well as from national patient database analyses indicate active surveillance, meaning treatment only if the tumor is showing signs of concerning progression, is helping patients avoid or delay unnecessary toxicity from radiation treatment. Partner institutions (MD Anderson Cancer Center and Stanford University) are helping to analyze patient specific factors taken from their blood (called liquid biopsies) that may further personalize the approach for our patients. Patient-reported quality-of-life metrics are essential to this trial and a common theme throughout my scholarly endeavors.

    Brain metastases:
    My research in brain metastases combines my interest in de-intensifying cancer treatment with how and when to combine radiation with new cancer-fighting drugs. Radiation has long been considered the standard of care for tumors that have spread to the brain. However, our research has indicated that patients may be able to safely avoid or delay radiation to the brain with prompt administration of therapies given by medical oncologists that harness the immune system to fight cancer (immunotherapy) and/or target a mutation in the cancer to prevent its growth. We have found that saving radiation only for progression on these therapies decreases the chance for radiation brain injury, and we are therefore investigating more individualized care plans.

    Skin Cancer:
    A research focus of mine is how to integrate radiation therapy into patients’ treatment plans for both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers. To help guide others, I composed the original melanoma National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) radiation guidelines section to address when it might be appropriate to consider radiation. To address a lack of knowledge regarding the safety/effectiveness of anti-cancer targeted drug and radiation combinations, I led a team of fellow national clinical trial network (NCTN) members to publish recommendations on how to avoid toxicity which are referenced and endorsed by the NCCN Melanoma Guidelines.