‘Rare’ is both special and less understood. Sarcoma is a rare group of cancers that start in the soft tissues or bones of the body. Although they represent less than one per cent of all cancers, sarcomas comprise over 50 distinct subtypes with diverse characteristics and behaviours. “Patients with sarcomas have unique treatment needs. We provide a team-based treatment approach that includes surgery, radiotherapy, systemic therapy (drugs) and supportive care, in a highly specialized setting. We are also very active in research in Canada and globally, which helps propel more treatment options for these patients,” says Dr. Albiruni Abdul Razak, Medical Oncology Lead of the Toronto Sarcoma Program at Mount Sinai Hospital and Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. The Toronto Sarcoma Program is the largest of its kind in Canada and one of the largest globally. “At any one time, we are involved in several clinical trials, and are major contributors to participation. In addition, we also work closely with the Phase 1 Program at the Princess Margaret, which allows for exploration of cutting edge novel therapies,” says Dr. Razak who is part of an interprofessional team delivering surgical, medical and radiation oncology treatments.

Mentoring the next generation of sarcoma physicians and researchers

Dr. Razak is also passionate about mentoring clinical fellows to ensure they gain hands-on clinical experience and conduct research that has direct patient impact and benefit. “We host fellows from across Canada, and the world, such as from Australia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Ireland, Nigeria, Israel and Yemen, as part of a two-year fellowship with the program. We see the training as an investment, in terms of creating the next generation of sarcoma specialists,” says Dr. Abdul Razak.

Dr. Olga Vornicova is one of those fellows. She has almost completed the first year of her fellowship. “It’s been an amazing experience… quite intense and very fulfilling to work with these patients in such a focused program. We know that sarcomas are varied and we are always striving through our research, to improve patient outcomes,” says Dr. Vornicova. After completing her fellowship at Mount Sinai Hospital, she plans to return home to Israel to share with colleagues what she has learned.

“Dr. Razak is a very good mentor. He combines teaching, and a philosophy of collaboration. He is very supportive. He allows us independence and gives us opportunities for recommendations and decision-making,” says Dr. Vornicova.

At this year’s American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) conference, three fellows Dr. Olubukola Ayodele, Dr. Abdulazeez Salawu and Dr. Vornicova with Dr. Razak as supervisor, were recognized with prestigious ASCO Merit Awards for addressing sarcoma research through their top-ranking, high-quality abstracts. Dr. Salawu was also the recipient of the Novartis Canadian Young Investigator Award (NOYCIA).