New "Cancer Care Partnership" brings advanced treatment to patients in local communities

Greensburg 14 January 2002Officials at three regional health systems and the West Penn Allegheny Health System (WPAHS) have formed a new cancer network serving the region. "Cancer Care Partnership" unites four cancer care programmes serving thirteen hospitals and numerous ambulatory care sites over a ten-county area and provides for expansion of cutting-edge technology in local communities.


Partnering with West Penn Allegheny Cancer Institute (WPACI) are Conemaugh Health System, comprised of Memorial Medical Center and Miners Medical Center in Cambria County, and Meyersdale and Windber hospitals in Somerset County; Somerset Hospital and Westmoreland Health System including Frick Hospital and Westmoreland Regional Hospital in Westmoreland County. WPAHS includes West Penn, Allegheny General (AGH), Forbes Regional, Suburban General hospitals and Alle-Kiski Medical Center in Allegheny County; and Canonsburg General Hospital, Washington County.

According to hospital officials, the partnership of WPACI and the community hospitals is unique in that it supports and enhances already existing cancer services rather than duplicating them.

"By joining forces with the community hospitals, we are able to broaden programmes already in place in these various communities", explained Charles M. O'Brien Jr., president and chief executive officer of the West Penn Allegheny Health System. "The goal of the partnership is to combine our respective clinical expertise in the community setting. In this way, we can provide local residents the finest cancer services available without spending tens of millions of dollars on new buildings, duplicative technology, and competing physicians and clinical staffs."

The health care partners stressed that patients will benefit from local access to and availability of the latest technology, clinical trials and top clinicians in the field of cancer care. Additionally, the partnership keeps patients in their communities, close to their support systems of family and friends.

Among its capabilities, WPACI offers some of the latest state-of-the-art advances in cancer technology and treatment. WPACI offers a programme for intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), one of the first in the region which enables oncologists to deliver higher doses of radiation to more irregular tumour volumes.

AGH has been performing IMRT since 1988 and is still among a select group of cancer centres throughout the country actively using it. In addition, the institute performs cryosurgery and B Mode Acquisition and Targeting (BAT) ultrasound technology to combat prostate cancer, and minimally invasive surgery for lung, breast, colorectal, and gynaecologic cancer.

WPACI is the first in the region to utilise the Marconi large bore CT Simulator. This simulator permits WPACI to perform three-dimensional virtual simulation planning in radiation therapy, as well as reduce procedure time for patients. The CT allows for the extension of the advantage of IMRT more readily to patients with cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and nodal system, among others.

The institute participates in national data collection studies and contributes to National Cancer Data Base which compiles benchmark reports used by hospitals to compare their own diagnosis and treatment patterns with national standards, and maintains residency and fellowship programmes in haematology/oncology and radiation oncology.

"We know, through our own programmes, the value patients place on advanced cancer treatment, access to medical specialists and a facility with a stellar reputation", noted Joseph J. Peluso, president and chief executive officer of Westmoreland Health System. "These attributes are now enhanced in the community setting because of the community hospitals' partnership with WPACI. We have partnered with a leader in cancer care and our patients will directly benefit."

For example, through WPACI patients have access to the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP), America's largest breast and bowel cancer trials. NSABP's national headquarters is on the campus of AGH, and the chairman and principal investigator is Norman Wolmark, MD, professor and chair of the department of human oncology of AGH and director of oncology for WPAHS. The clinical trials are funded by the National Cancer Institute.

WPACI is comprised of a number of disease-oriented cancer centres. It includes a renowned bone marrow transplant programme, ranked as one of the top 20 in the United States. The centres provide comprehensive diagnostic and co-ordinated treatment services which combine the many disciplines involved in cancer treatment. The institute is also involved in many other national clinical trials offering patients the latest therapies and treatments.

"As community hospitals, we are able to partner with West Penn Allegheny and bring their vast knowledge to our patients. Through advances in such areas as telemedicine, we will be able to consult and transfer diagnostics among physician specialists and primary care physicians. This is a definite benefit for our patients", noted Richard Salluzzo, MD, Conemaugh Health System president and chief executive officer.

Leslie Versweyveld

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