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Extraordinary Care Is the Mission of the John Theurer Cancer Center

By Ed Rabinowitz
Published: Friday, May 14, 2010
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This Month's Featured Institution:

John Theurer Cancer Center

The John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey has been a leader in the diagnosis, treatment, management, and prevention of cancer for more than 30 years. Last year alone it prepared close to 300,000 inpatient and outpatient chemotherapy sessions. And the Center enrolls far more patients in clinical trials than the national average—16% of the Center’s patients participated in some type of research protocol.

The Center’s mission, simply put by Andrew Pecora, MD, chairman and executive administrative director of the cancer center, is to provide patients with extraordinary care. Accomplishing that mission, he said, involves 5 key components: access to multidisciplinary, specialized care teams; care that is innovative; care that is personalized; exceeding patient expectations; and the demonstration of superior outcomes. “These are not just words for us,” Pecora said. “This is actually what we do. We have 14 divisions in the Cancer Center that provide multidisciplinary, specialized care.” Every effort is taken to ensure that this care is supplied at a very high level.

Promoting Innovation

Dan Smith, MD, is vice chairman of the Center and chief of its gynecologic oncology division. He explained that when it comes to treating cancer, there are guidelines to follow—standards of care established by agencies such as the National Cancer Institute and professional alliances like the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Smith said being innovative means further defining that standard of care to be in a position to care for patients who fail an initial treatment plan.

“If our standard of care were perfect, we probably wouldn’t need to innovate or develop new programs,” Smith said. “Since it’s not, I think that innovation is a way of looking for a better outcome for your patients.”

One of those innovations in gynecologic surgery is the use of the daVinci Surgical System, or robotic surgery. Smith explains that he experienced the daVinci system firsthand 4 years ago during his own prostate surgery. After that, he and his colleagues wondered, “Why aren’t we doing this for women?” Since then, there has been growing demand by patients for robotic surgery. Nevertheless, controversy exists concerning the cost and effectiveness of the system.

“Information [on long-term survival] is not going to come out for quite a while,” Smith said. “But what we do see is that patients are in the hospital 1 night instead of 5. They don’t need to be transfused, they don’t get wound infections, and they go back to work sooner. I would say there’s not one person who doesn’t want [their surgery] done with a robot.”

Cancer center surgeons nationwide are responding to the call. Smith said the John Theurer Cancer Center has more than 50 surgeons trained to use the daVinci system, and all the surgeons are actively involved in training other physicians. “If you are a resident in obstetrics and gynecology now and are not being trained in robotic use, you’re going to be doing pap smears,” said Smith, “because you can do almost every operation, in my opinion, better with a robot.”

Innovation in radiation oncology

Anthony Ingenito, MD, a radiation oncologist and researcher, was recently named the founding chairman of the Center’s newly elevated Department of Radiation Oncology. Ingenito explained that this specialty was previously known as the Division of Oncology, and he said the transition from division to department encompasses more than a word.

“It gives us some more independence, I think, operationally…and somewhat more autonomy to be creative in developing new protocols for treatment. I believe that’s the most successful way that we can proceed in order to offer our patients the best possible care,” Ingenito said. One area the department is focusing on is expanding the application of intensity modulated radiation therapy and developing and integrating a comprehensive imageguided radiation therapy (IGRT) program to target tumors more precisely in the body. Ingenito said IGRT enables surgeons to account for organ motion and to make corrections in real time to ensure that radiation is reaching the tumor and not healthy tissue.

“These technologies have already shown a decrease in many of the common side effects that are often experienced by patients,” Ingenito said. “This adaptive therapy, as we call it, is in a constant state of evolution.”

April saw another step in that evolution, with the unveiling by Varian Medical Systems of the most advanced technology available to deliver radiation therapy for cancer care. The John Theurer Cancer Center, which is partnering with Varian, will be one of a handful of institutions countrywide using this new technology. “It’s very exciting to obtain this breakthrough technology,” said Ingenito.

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