In addition to the research and clinical work she performs as a member of the University of Colorado Cancer Center, Swati Patel, MD, also just completed a one-year term as president of the Collaborative Group of the Americas on Inherited Gastrointestinal Cancer (CGA-IGC), an international professional medical organization dedicated to taking care of patients who may be at increased risk of GI cancer based on family history and genetics.
“Whether it’s colon cancer, gastric cancer, or pancreatic cancer, we know that about 10% of patients with GI cancers have a genetic syndrome that increases the risk of getting that cancer,” Patel says. “And as patients get younger, that that rate goes up. These hereditary syndromes are really important to know about, not only because they increase the risk of cancer, but also because we have really effective ways of finding those cancers early or preventing them altogether.”
In November 2022, Patel presided over the CGA-IGC’s annual meeting in Nashville, where GI cancer clinicians and researchers from around the world met to improve understanding and clinical management of inherited gastrointestinal cancers. In addition to premiere state-of-the-art lectures and research presentations, presenters at the conference focused on mentoring, advocacy, and the importance of building collaborative partnerships, as well as increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the hereditary GI field.
The CU Cancer Center was a sponsor of the CGA-IGC conference, which in addition to Patel featured presentations by CU Cancer Center members Jon Vogel, MD, and Christopher Lieu, MD. Other attendees from the University of Colorado included Michelle Springer CGC (CGA-IGC Communications Committee Member), Lisen Axell CGC (CGA-IGC Education Committee Member), Joshua Keyes, CGC, Lisa Ku, MS, CGC, Jordan Karlitz, MD, Elizabeth Magnan, BA, and Samantha Guneratne, BA.
“The CU Cancer Center has been highly impactful in the field of inherited gastrointestinal cancers for decades, from high-quality clinical care to access to cutting-edge clinical trials,” says Patel, who was recently invited to serve on the steering committee for the American Cancer Society’s National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable. “We participate in all the important multicenter research consortia and clinical trials, including an NCI-sponsored clinical trial looking at a vaccine to prevent cancer in Lynch syndrome. I think our presence and leadership in organizations such as CGA-IGC and the NCCRT reflect how impactful the CU Cancer Center is.”
The CGA-IGC conference gave additional recognition to the CU Cancer Center by presenting an outstanding service award named for the late Dennis Ahnen, MD, a former CU Cancer Center member and gastrointestinal cancer researcher who died in 2020.
“Dennis Ahnen was a very important voice at the CU Cancer Center,” Patel says. “He led the charge. He was my mentor, and he brought me into this world. He’s the one who introduced me to the CGA-IGC and got me involved early on in my training. Many of us who are members of the society continue to be inspired by him and his lifelong dedication to this work.”
A professional home
The 2022 conference was the CGA-IGC’s first in-person gathering since 2019, and Patel says it was nice to return to the organization she considers her professional home. In addition to gastroenterologists like Patel, the CGA-IGC also includes medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, scientists, and genetic counselors who advise patients on their risk of having a genetically acquired cancer.
“It’s a small but mighty society when you look at it relative to huge societies like the American Society of Clinical Oncology,” Patel says of the CGA-IGC, “but when you look at the people who are members and attend these meetings and contribute to the society, they really are the most impactful individuals in the field. These are the people who lead the science, write the guidelines; the people who are well-known experts internationally.”
Showcasing young talent
Planning and hosting the conference and presiding over the society was a lot of hard work, Patel says, but she was pleased at the opportunity to select early-career researchers and give them the chance to be in the spotlight.
“The most exciting thing for me was reviewing all of this amazing research and selecting not only high-quality research that changes the field and advances the care of patients, but really focusing on elevating junior members in our in our field — those at the early stages of their career,” she says. “Some were as junior as undergraduate students who presented on behalf of their research team. We had medical students, residents, fellows, and other researchers who are early in their career.
“The really magical part of our society is that even though it’s sort of the who’s who of hereditary GI cancer, we are very much supportive of early career and junior folks,” Patel continues. “It’s important to us to get them at the podium to present on behalf of their big research teams in a really welcoming and collaborative way. It’s fun to select those presenters and give them the opportunity to be highlighted in a way that maybe they don't get the chance to at other big meetings.”
A meeting recap written by CU Cancer Center member and cancer genetic counselor Michelle Springer, CGC, can be found here.