(April 2011) Francine Foss, MD, and Lynn Wilson, MD, have each had people approach them at cocktail parties to say they recognized their names. It’s fun, although it wasn’t what they intended when they agreed to host a weekly radio show about cancer.
But Yale Cancer Center Answers, which airs every Sunday at 6 p.m. on Connecticut Public Radio (WNPR), is attracting an astonishing audience. Launched in 2006 by Yale Cancer Center, it’s the only weekly radio show on cancer care by a National Cancer Institute comprehensive cancer center. It’s the second highest rated podcast on cancer in the world on iTunes, and the highest rated podcast for skin, breast and colorectal cancer—the cancers with the highest incidence in the United States.
The show’s audience doubled in size between spring 2007 and fall 2009 to 4,000 weekly listeners per station according to the last reported data available. That’s above the average cumulative audience rate for the top 10 programs in that time slot on all stations in the market.
Yale media center staff record a recent show on treatment with Gamma Knife, a non-invasive alternative to traditional brain surgery.
Dr. Foss and Dr. Wilson have access to top experts—sometimes world experts—in a variety of specialties. Their guests have included transplant surgeon Sukru Emre, MD, who brought cutting edge liver transplantation techniques to Connecticut, and oncologist Thomas Lynch, MD, the director of Yale Cancer Center and physician-in-chief of Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven. Dr. Mel Goldstein is among the cancer survivors who have shared their stories on the program. When cancer is in the news—as it was after the late Senator Edward Kennedy’s brain cancer diagnosis—they air a show on the topic.
“I think the show accomplishes two things,” says Dr. Foss. “First, it addresses what people really want to hear—scientific information from experts with the facts distilled so that they can understand them. We always try to mention web sites, support groups—any resources where patients can get additional information.”
“The second thing is that we want people to feel comfortable with the word ‘cancer’ and let go of the stigma associated with it. The reality is that many, many patients are living with cancer, and treatments are getting better. You only read a little snippet in the New York Times whenever a new drug is approved, but there are many tolerable drug therapies available now for multiple types of cancers,” Dr. Foss said.
Phil Kearney, left, studio operations manager, and Emily Fenton, Yale Cancer Center marketing and event coordinator, review details with Drs. Foss and Wilson before taping.
Both doctors are deep in the trenches in the battle against cancer on a daily basis, and they have worked closely together as clinicians. Dr. Foss is an internationally recognized clinician and clinical researcher with expertise in adult lymphomas and stem cell allotransplantation, which is the transfer of an organ or tissue between genetically different individuals. Dr. Wilson is clinical director of therapeutic radiology at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven.
Each has previous radio experience. Dr. Foss worked as a news broadcaster for WDCR, the Dartmouth College radio station. Dr. Wilson hosted an hour-long sports show as a student at Denison University. Now they carve out time in their busy schedules each month to record their show in the Yale Broadcast & Media Center’s on-campus studio. They usually complete three to four shows per session, and will schedule a special session if there is a visiting professor on campus or special guest they want to interview.
“Part of the challenge for us is to get everybody through it,” says Dr. Wilson. “Some guests have done public speaking and been on the radio, and others are anxious and nervous. We help them feel relaxed and help them get through the show, and make sure the content is high quality.”
The goal is to take highly technical and sometimes specific information and make it easy for a lay audience to understand, says Dr. Wilson. “Over the course of the year, if a listener were to tune in every week, he or she would have a pretty good idea of how an academic cancer center is different, how the care is provided here, what kind of science is going on, how our scientific discoveries are translating into the clinic through clinical trials, and how we provide multidisciplinary care,” he said.
“I’ve learned so much here,” said Dr. Foss. “It has changed the way I look at cancer and the way I practice. I’m much more aware of where patients are coming from, and I have more information to convey to my patients. At the end of the day, I think it’s one of the most valuable things I do.”
Story by Kathy Katella
Photographs by Robert Lisak
Yale Cancer Center Answers airs Sunday nights at 6 pm on the following WNPR stations:
90.5 FM Hartford/New Haven
89.1 FM Norwich/New London
88.5 FM Stamford/Greenwich
91.3 FM Southampton, NY
99.5 FM Storrs
WECS 90.1 FM Willimantic
WVOF 88.5FM Fairfield
You can also tune in live online by visiting wnpr.org and clicking on Listen Live.
If you have a question to send in to Yale Cancer Center Answers for possible use during a show, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org
A full archive of audio and written transcripts is available online at yalecancercenter.org/answers/ archives_topic.html. Recent programs include:
For more information about Yale Cancer Center, including details on clinical programs and trials, visit the website at yalecancercenter.org.
The Yale Cancer Center urges listeners to consult with a qualified physician for diagnosis and for answers to their personal medical questions. For additional information and direction about personal diagnosis and/or treatment options, please call 1-866-YALE CANCER.