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VECC celebrates 10th anniversary

On May 6, from 2 to 5 p.m., the Van Elslander Cancer Center (VECC) will host a community celebration to commemorate its opening 10 years ago. At that event, survivors will have the opportunity to take a photo with their physician, tour areas of the cancer center where they received treatment, sign a survivorship banner, and enjoy live entertainment and refreshments. All are welcome.

As the Cancer Center was being built 10 years ago, with significant donor support from the Van Elslander family and others, Dr. Ayad Al-Katib was recruited to join the staff and lead the Center’s development. Below are answers from him regarding some of the key facets of the program over the last decade.

We’ve offered cancer care for more than 10 years, haven’t we?
SJH&MC absolutely offered care for cancer patients before the VECC was built, but there was no central building for outpatient services. Radiation oncology was in the hospital’s basement, and chemotherapy was done in physician offices. This made it very hard to coordinate a patient’s care.

Why is having an actual building for cancer services important?
Patients seeking cancer treatment need support. They don’t need to spend significant time and effort scheduling appointments in different places. Now, patients are diagnosed in hospital or office, and then come to our Center, where they can get expressed labs, physician office visits, radiation oncology, medical oncology, pediatric oncology, healing arts, mammograms, and more. If they need nutritional counseling, social work help, or financial counseling, those services are available in the Center too.

In addition, since many of our cancer specialists are housed in the same building, they interact regularly, talk about cases, work together, and participate in our multidisciplinary conferences.

What are multi-disciplinary conferences?
Multi-disciplinary conferences bring together all the specialists in one room. Over lunch, with a list of patients in hand, they discuss the pathology and imaging results; develop a plan of care; and decide the order for chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. What used to take significant time, letters, phone calls, and emails, can be done in the course of an hour. SJH&MC has multidisciplinary conferences for: breast, lymphoma/leukemia, gynecologic, gastroenterology, head/neck, genitourinary (prostate), and chest. To be compliant with the Commission on Cancer, 10 percent of the newly diagnosed cancer cases have to be discussed prospectively; SJH&MC discusses between 40 and 50 percent of new cases.

Are you involved in research?
SJH&MC has always been part of the Michigan Cancer Research Consortium which is a community-based research program, funded by the National Cancer Institute. In addition, the VECC has pharmaceutical-sponsored research, and local in-house research projects.

What about breast care?
The Liggett Breast Center was made possible through the generosity of Robert and Victoria Liggett. Located on the third floor of the Van Elslander Cancer Center, the Liggett Breast Center is recognized as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence and since its opening 10 years ago has continued to provide state of the art imaging, including Mammography, Ultrasound, and both Stereotactic and Ultrasound guided needle biopsies. Each Tuesday, the Liggett Breast Center, hosts a Patient oriented Multidisciplinary Clinic where the patients and family come to meet with the Specialists to hear their treatment options and to obtain answers to their questions regarding their care. This Clinic immediately follows the weekly Multidisciplinary Conference/Tumor Board in which their cases have been discussed. Patients have come from all over the state as well as from abroad to attend this Multidisciplinary Clinic. The Breast Center is accredited by the American College of Radiology and is staffed by fellowship trained physicians and accredited breast imaging technologists.

Do we offer quality radiation oncology?
Our radiation oncology equipment has come a very long way in the past 10 years. We can now deliver radiation therapy with such a great precision that we can target down to the millimeter in order to save sensitive, normal tissue. There are techniques, such as IMRT, which can, through diagnostics and imaging, precisely outline the tumor and deliver the radiation, as the tumor shrinks, the radiation field shrinks. We even utilize ABC breathing control, a methodology that allows radiation to be delivered to a moving tumor/organ in the body, tumor in the lung, when the patient breathes, the tumor moves. This technology synchronizes the treatment with the breathing.

What’s new in the field of chemotherapy?
We are now in the era of targeted therapy. That means that specific medicines can affect only the cancer cells and save the normal tissues. One example is radio-immune therapy (RIT) for lymphoma. This treatment involves injecting an antibody (anti-CD20) that specifically recognizes lymphoma cells throughout the body. Attached to the antibody is a radioactive substance which will be delivered to the lymphoma cells when the antibody binds to it. In this way, we deliver radiation therapy directly and selectively to the cancer cells.

What about children with cancer?
The VECC has done a fantastic job for children and adolescents with cancer. Although cancer in children is much less common than adults, it is very specialized because of the emotional and psycho-social needs. The Meade Pediatric Oncology/Hematology Center is an amazing place of hope and healing, not only because of the décor, but because the staff is so warm and welcoming, and makes the visits for cancer treatment as pleasant as possible. The center participates in national clinical trial network, the Children Oncology Group (COG) and has received commendation for its high participation in clinical research.

What’s the future of the Cancer Center?
The success of the VECC in the future will be dependent on the medical minds behind it. It has been an interesting phenomenon to have our own trainees and residents express their interest in cancer….and staying to practice medicine at SJH&MC. For instance, surgical resident Dr. Richard Berri went to train at MD Anderson, knowing that he would have a place in the VECC when he returned. When he came back, one of the procedures he brought was HIPEC, which has received media attention because it gives patients with a certain type of cancer a 20 percent chance of recurrence, instead of a 100 percent chance. Another resident is training in colorectal surgery at the University of Miami, and will return to the VECC to provide care to patients.

Are healing arts an important part of cancer treatment?
Studies show that more than 80 percent of cancer patients have sought alternative or complementary medicine (CAM). Some share this with their physicians, others don’t. We have embraced CAM by offering the Valade Healing Arts Center. Patients can learn more about massage, Reiki, Reflexology, and many other services.

What makes you the most proud when considering the last 10 years?
We were able to bring so many specialists together with the advent of the VECC. Formerly, cancer care was not as coordinated and cohesive. There has been a huge focus shift to a coordinated, expedited, and cohesive patient care in a spirit of collaboration among specialists and teamwork that benefits patients.

What are nurse navigators?
Nurse navigators coordinate cancer care for patients. They help patients schedule appointments, and serve as the “point person” for the patient’s care. The patient has a person they can call with any of their questions, without having to try to reach numerous physician offices. We want patients to focus on fighting their cancer, not with becoming a master at organizing physician appointments and navigating a complex medical system.

What will the VECC look like in another 10 to 20 years?
My hope is that we will add two floors to house multidisciplinary clinics and specialized centers for different types of cancers like cancers of the gastrointestinal tract (GI), genitourinary system (GU), Chest (Thoracic) tumors and so on. With increasing depth of knowledge and sophistication of cancer therapy, we need to attract the brightest and best minds and provide them with functional environment to insure their success.

Congratulations to the VECC on fighting cancer for 10 years. Many more!


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VECC 10th Anniversary Celebration

VECC 10th Anniversary Celebration

VECC 10th Anniversary Celebration

VECC 10th Anniversary Celebration