Cancer survivor Andy Womack, MTMC CEO Gordon Ferguson, survivor Dr. Liz Rhea and Dr. Brian Long (from left) open MTMC’s new Cancer Center. (Photos submitted)
Middle Tennessee Medical Center took a final step toward its goal of becoming a regional medical facility with the grand opening of its Cancer Center earlier this week.
Previously located in the Bell Street building on the hospital’s old campus, the Cancer Center at MTMC is now inside the Seton Medical Office building adjacent to the new hospital on Medical Center Parkway.
It has its own dedicated entrance and is conveniently located in the same building as Tennessee Oncology, the Center for Breast Health at MTMC and Middle Tennessee Imaging-Murfreesboro.
The new state-of-the-art facility means more convenience, better precision and shorter treatment visits, says Dr. Brian K. Lee, radiation oncologist.
He described the new large bore Philips CT scanner that allows imaging for every size patient; the machine can accommodate up to 450 pounds. The center also features two new Varian linear accelerators, made possible by the Christy-Houston Foundation, that offer more precise targeting for radiation therapy, capability for respiratory gating and adjusting radiation according to the patient’s breathing cycles, and capability for stereotactic radiosurgery.
Essentially, the new equipment provides more accuracy, along with shorter treatment times.
“It’s really targeting the (Cancerous) tissue versus all of the tissue, which means less exposure to radiation,” Lee said.
“The whole idea is not to harm the good tissue and separate the tumor from the good tissue,” added Steve Clevenger, medical imaging and radiation therapy director.
He also said appointments will be shorter “because we’re able to give a higher dose in a more precise (treatment location).” Patients will now be scheduled in 15-minute appointments compared to previous 30-minute appointment times.
Large bore CT scanners obtain detailed images of areas inside the body for cancer diagnosis and radiation treatment planning. This advanced imaging technology combines simulation, fluoroscopy and respiratory gating to plan and deliver radiation treatment with a high level of precision.
Oncologists use the information gathered by the scan to create the patient’s customized treatment plan. The large bore CT scanner is advantageous because it has a large opening to accurately scan patients of all sizes and in various positions. It accurately pinpoints tumor locations while monitoring tumor motion to guide a variety of interventional procedures.
With the new linear accelerators, MTMC oncologists can treat all tissues or organs of the body affected by cancer tumors. The technology delivers high-energy x-rays to the region of the patient's tumor more precisely.
“These are cutting-edge linear accelerators,” said Dr. Charles Wendt, a radiation oncologist with MTMC and Tennessee Oncology. “The benefit to the patient is that we can deliver radiation to eliminate tumor while minimizing the amount of healthy tissue exposed to the radiation.”
Radiation treatment is a fast, painless outpatient procedure and typically lasts only a few minutes. It is typically administered over a period of six to eight weeks, typically five days a week.
“Dealing with cancer is tough. Our goal is to help cure it while offering better access, convenience and compassionate care,” said Gordon B. Ferguson, president and CEO of MTMC. “An advanced cancer center is critical as patients are referred to us from across our region. It’s great to see the center come to completion with collaboration from our physicians and the support of the Christy-Houston Foundation.”
MTMC’s cancer program is just one of 90 nationwide to receive the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Commission on Cancer.
Its location may be new, but MTMC’s Cancer Center still provides the one-on-one, personal care that patients have grown so fond of receiving.
Dr. Liz Rhea, retired physician and community volunteer, remembers traveling to Nashville for treatment on one occasion.
“This is by far the better clinic,” she said, adding that MTMC staff was more personable and aided in a better overall experience.
“Here, you’re treated as a person, not a (patient) number,” chimed in Beth Smith, another cancer patient who has received treatment both at MTMC and in Nashville. She, too, prefers staying closer to home because the doctors and nurses are “much more personal and friendly.”
MTMC Foundation Board of Directors and Co-Chair of Cancer Center Campaign Andy Womack spoke of his treatments in Nashville, as well. He recalled the burden placed on the person accompanying cancer patients: time off work, waiting, waiting and more waiting.
“I had almost all of my treatments in Murfreesboro, and that’s what I’m hoping this building will be doing for all citizens of Rutherford County,” he said.
Cancer Center at MTMC treated 862 patients in 2010, according to the 2011 Cancer Program Annual Report (data for 2011 is not yet available). More than 4,300 patients total were treated by doctors in the Saint Thomas Health’s Cancer Network, which includes MTMC, Baptist Hospital and Saint Thomas Hospital.