A regional oncology center offering Howard County's first radiation treatments for cancer patients officially opens today in Columbia.
The Central Maryland Oncology Center now will offer cancer patients some of the most advanced forms of both radiation and medical oncology treatments -- treatments that usually aren't offered under the same roof.
"There is no other center like this in Howard County," said Dr. Omar M. Salazar, professor and chairman of radiation oncology at the University of Maryland Medical Center. "I think this is a plus plus for Howard County."
The center was created by Howard County General Hospital and the University of Maryland Medical Center. Under a 1993 agreement, it began last fall in the Sam Shoemaker Building, a two-story medical office building next to the Howard hospital on Little Patuxent Parkway,
Four radiation oncologists from the university hospital now are joining a three-member medical oncology practice associated with the Howard hospital. The medical oncologists have been providing services at the center since November.
"The benefit to patients is state-of-the-art equipment and convenience," Vic Broccolino, the Howard hospital's president, said. "We think this is a service that complements the service the hospital provides and helps us become a regional oncology center. It is a major step in the continuum of care."
The university hospital spent $4.2 million renovating the building and purchasing the radiation and diagnostic imagery equipment -- equipment that the new center will show off tonight at an opening-day tour for trustees, administrators and doctors from both hospitals.
"Ninety percent of what needs to be done [for cancer patients] can be done with these machines," Dr. Salazar said.
Officials said there is a big need for the new cancer treatment center
According to Dr. Salazar, one of every five Americans will develop cancer.
While those statistics are sobering, he said, many Howard County cancer patients detect their illness early because they tend to be young, affluent, well-educated and aggressively pursue medical treatment.
Doctors expect the center to draw 90 percent of its patients from Howard County, with the rest coming from the Washington area.
Eventually, officials hope the radiation oncology services will benefit about 270 cancer patients yearly.
Before the center began offering medical oncology treatments last November, Howard cancer patients had to travel to Baltimore or the Washington area, officials said.
"This is a huge burden that's been lifted off the families," said Dr. Jon Minford, who helps oversee the center's medical oncology services. Medical oncology uses chemotherapy and intravenous forms of medicine to eliminate cancer cells.
Breast cancer patient Diana Spendelow of Silver Spring agreed.
Before the center opened, Ms. Spendelow faced a 45-minute drive to Montgomery General Hospital five days a week for five weeks to receive radiation treatment. Now she can undergo the same treatment 30 minutes away at the new center where her medical oncologist, Dr. Minford, is.
"I just get on Route 29," she said. "It's a straight shot up. It's a very easy drive."
By providing radiation and medical oncology services under the same roof, doctors also can provide better follow-up care for their patients.
"It makes it so much easier," Dr. Minford said. "We get to eyeball them the whole time they're getting radiation."
Patients also benefit from sophisticated equipment that includes a $1.2 million linear accelerator, a device that can generate up to 10,000 times more radiation than a typical chest X-ray to eliminate cancer cells.
One of only 300 in the world, the fully digital, computer-controlled machine can tailor the delivery of radiation beams to the shape and size of each tumor, preventing radiation from harming healthy tissues.
"It's much more precise" than conventional machines of its type, said Dr. Wilfred Sewchand, director of clinical physics for the University of Maryland Medical Center.