July/August 1999

Oncology Programs Encompass New Technologies, New Ways of Caring

survive Photo

Cancer survivors address postcards that will help them keep in touch with and receive the support of relatives and friends. The postcards, donated by the Tourist Bureau in Hawaii, were part of an island-themed celebration of National Cancer Survivors Day at St. Mary Medical Center, Langhorne, Pa.

The statistics that rise from the incidence of cancer in the United States are sobering. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 1,500 Americans die from cancer every day. Cancer is the nation’s second leading cause of death, and is responsible for the loss of one in every four lives. In 1999, more than 1.2 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed. However, a diagnosis of cancer is no longer the automatic death sentence it was once thought to be. The National Cancer Institute estimates that more than 8.2 million people in the United States are living with a history of cancer, and the five-year survival rate for all cancers is about 60 percent. Catholic Health Initiatives’ market-based organizations are contributing to survival rates with a combination of new technology, participation in research and caring for patients’ minds and spirits as well as their bodies. Cancer centers offer array of services Since it was established in 1939, the Penrose Cancer Center of Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, Colorado Springs, Colo., has evolved into a comprehensive regional cancer center. The center’s multidisciplinary team approach to patient care links all phases of treatment and support services. Physicians and staff from the center and other areas of Penrose-St. Francis Health Services and community organizations work together to provide more than 1,000 new cancer patients each year with social, psychological, spiritual and emotional support. The center offers a wide variety of programs and services for inpatients and outpatients, including stem cell transplants and a dental oncology program. Through its membership in the Colorado Cancer Research Program, a consortium of eight community hospital cancer programs in Colorado, the center develops investigational clinical and cancer prevention protocols under the supervision of the National Cancer Institute. Since 1982, the center has also sponsored the Rocky Mountain Cancer Information Service, part of a national information and education network that is the voice of the National Cancer Institute. Through the years, the Rocky Mountain Cancer Information Service has maintained the distinction of having the only Cancer Information Service contract granted to a community hospital: other Cancer Information Service sponsors include such major cancer centers as Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Duke University and Yale University. St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, Md., also treats more than 1,000 inpatients a year for cancer and is becoming more involved in the research of cancer treatment. Current studies are looking at chemotherapy, radiation or a combination of the two, as well as gene therapy. St. Joseph can offer participation in phase III medication trials through an affiliation with the National Surgical Association for Colon and Breast Studies. Through affiliation with the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group, St. Joseph is participating in studies on breast cancer in women age 70 and older and advanced stages of prostate cancer in men. St. Joseph is also affiliated with the Southwest Oncology Group, which is conducting studies on chemotherapeutic agents, gene-altering agents and chemoradiation, among others. St. Joseph offers a variety of services to cancer patients, including brachytherapy for prostate cancer, a process that destroys cancer tissue by implanting radioactive seeds into the prostate; mammotome and ABBI procedures, which are more accurate, less painful and less costly alternatives to traditional surgical breast biopsies. Advancements in radiation treatments Radiation oncologists at St. Joseph Regional Cancer Center, part of St. Joseph Healthcare, Albuquerque, N.M., are using a new type of computerized radiation therapy that allows high-dose radiation to be precisely targeted on a tumor, sparing healthy tissue and organs around the tumor site. The new therapy is also quicker and easier for patients. Forms of radiation therapy that involve surgical placement of low-dose radiation into the tumor require patients to stay in almost total isolation for about 50 hours while the implant does its work. In contrast, the new process generates a topographic map of the tumor and a computer guides the insertion of high-powered radiation through implant needles for five minutes. After each five-minute treatment, the patient can return to his or her room with no danger of radiation exposure for visitors or staff. The treatment is currently used on prostate cancer patients, and will soon be available for use on breast, uterine, head and neck cancers. Technology that characterizes tumors Saint Joseph Hospital in Lexington, Ky., recently installed a state-of-the-art molecular coincidence detection (MCD) scanner in the department of nuclear medicine. Saint Joseph is the first hospital in Kentucky to install such technology, which is similar to that of position emission tomography (PET) imaging. The clinical benefits of MCD include its assessment of metabolic activity through the ability to characterize tumors. This allows physicians to more accurately diagnose cancer patients when surgery is in question. If a patient’s cancer has progressed to the point where an invasive procedure would not help, the MCD scan saves the patient from the emotional and physical repercussions of an operation. The scanner is being used primarily for lung and colon cancer patients. Emphasis on breast cancer detection, treatment Early detection can be the key to survival for cancer patients, including patients with breast cancer, which is now the second leading cause of death in American women. To increase early detection, St. Francis Hospital, Wilmington, Del., was the first hospital on the East Coast to acquire a M1000 ImageChecker. The machine improves the chances of detecting breast cancer in its early stages by helping radiologists read mammograms in greater detail. After a radiologist’s initial reading of a mammogram, the film is fed into the ImageChecker, which analyzes the film and turns it into digital signals. The machine searches for abnormalities, then changes the signals back into a mammogram image and flags suspicious areas for the radiologist to review. The ImageChecker helps radiologists avoid interpretation errors and catch subtle indications of cancer, such as localized tumors that may be too small to be felt by hand or seen easily on a mammogram. Many of the Penrose Cancer Center’s breast cancer patients use the services of the center’s Breast Cancer Genetics Program, the first such program in southern Colorado. The program’s goal is to teach people about the role genes and their mutations play in the development of breast cancer. Breast cancer patients, or those who fear they will develop breast cancer, can have their families’ genetic pedigrees reviewed and receive appropriate counseling and education, all free of charge. Some breast cancer patients who receive mastectomies develop lymphedema, an abnormal build-up of fluids and cell wastes in tissues that occurs when the lymph system is unable to work properly. Mastectomy patients are vulnerable to this condition when parts of their lymph nodes are removed during their mastectomies. To help lymphedema patients, the Physical Therapy Department at St. Catherine Hospital, Garden City, Kan., began a lymphedema rehabilitation service in March. The therapy, for which members of St. Catherine’s physical therapy staff received specialized training, includes a regimen of massage, compression bandaging and exercise. Mastectomy patients who develop lymphedema usually have significant swelling of the arm on the same side as the mastectomy, which can cause pain and decreased arm function. While lymphedema is not curable, St. Catherine’s goal is to help patients manage the condition so that it will not significantly affect their lifestyles. A celebration for survivors More than 800 cancer survivors and their families gathered in June in the new Outpatient Care Facility at St. Mary Medical Center, Langhorne, Pa., to celebrate a mass in honor of National Cancer Survivors Day. The annual event, sponsored by Coping With Cancer magazine and others, provides an opportunity for the more than eight million individuals in the United States who live with a history of cancer to celebrate life. National Cancer Survivors Day also raises awareness that many cancer survivors, especially those from poor and underserved populations, face barriers to quality care and support services. St. Mary’s mass was followed by a picnic that included food and entertainment with an island holiday theme. In addition to learning to hula dance, survivors were invited to send authentic Hawaiian postcards to friends or relatives who were not able to attend to reinforce awareness of cancer survivors’ need for the ongoing support of their families and friends.