Carolinas HealthCare System’s Levine Cancer Institute recently opened its newest Radiation Therapy Center at CMC-University. We have facts about the $9.75 million facility on our website. Here’s what you really need to know: Thanks to lessons learned elsewhere across the Levine Cancer Institute, our new center seamlessly melds ultra-sophisticated technology, medical logistics and compassion for the emotional needs of patients and families. One small example: Patients undergoing treatment can find comfort in a blue sky and clouds glowing above the advanced linear accelerator.
The new center within CMC-University’s building on North Tryon Street replaces a much smaller one with older equipment that operated for several years about a mile away, in University Executive Park. We recently toured the new center with Bill Leonard, president of CMC-University; Vicki Reich, assistant vice president of radiation oncology services for Levine Cancer Institute; and Dr. Mark Liang, the center’s medical director and one of two radiation oncologists on staff at CMC-University. Here are some of our impressions.
Location says a lot
The new center’s main entrance facing North Tryon Street reflects both its significance (one of seven radiation therapy centers in Charlotte and among 13 across Carolinas HealthCare System) and its focus on patient needs. Dr. Liang says that many patients continue to work while undergoing daily radiation treatment, so they appreciate the convenient parking and direct access to the center. Patients requiring hospitalization also benefit from the new location within CMC-University. In the past, these patients would have needed an ambulance ride for treatment at the old center across Tryon Street.
Designed for comfort
The reception area is surprisingly large. Dr. Liang explained that people coming for their first consultation often bring family members. The spacious lounge area helps them feel more comfortable on that important first visit. That first visit includes a consultation with the radiation oncologist. The center has several rooms for these meetings that offer not just privacy but special features to accommodate the needs of people dealing with different kinds of cancer. That attention to patient comfort extends to the center’s soothing colors and furniture patterns – one room reminded us of a muted Starbucks or Panera Bread – and even to the glowing panels on the ceiling of the radiation-treatment room. Patients undergoing treatment can look up into a deep-blue summer sky with soft clouds and trees.
New level of technology
Of course the focal point of this medical center is the linear accelerator, which delivers the radiation treatments, and the 16-slice CT scanner that helps Liang and his team craft a precise treatment plan. The CT scanner can make up to 10 images per inch of the human body, and do that in three directions. The advanced linear accelerator delivers the radiation therapy. Highly sophisticated onboard imaging allows physicians to treat a wide range of tumors with enhanced precision and accuracy, Levine Cancer Institute says. The new accelerator is also up to 10 times faster than the one it replaces at the previous University City treatment center. That speed means more patients served, and more patient comfort, Vicki Reich explained. Imagine undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, she said. These patients must drink a lot of fluids before the treatment to help stabilize the area receiving radiation. The previous equipment might take 15 minutes per treatment – which could seem painfully long if the patient now needed to urinate. The new treatment time? About 2 minutes.
Behind the technology: people
Our last impression is about the people. This may seem obvious, but given the size and cost of the center’s sophisticated equipment, good treatment still comes down to the people providing it. Dr. Liang, a radiation oncologist with Southeast Radiation Oncology Group, has more than 30 years of experience in diagnostic radiology and is board certified by the American Board of Radiology. We met two of the center’s 8-9 staff members on our tour. Robyn Wallace, a medical dosimetrist, works with radiation oncologists to plan a patient’s therapy. On the big computer screen in her small office were a few of those ultra-fine CT scans showing a tumor and the physician’s marking of where to direct the radiation. Wallace’s work is crucial to successful treatment: She creates the plan that the linear accelerator will follow to focus radiation on the tumor while avoiding healthy organs nearby. Tami Gould guides that treatment process. A radiation therapist with experience operating advanced linear accelerators, she transferred to CMC-University from the Institute’s Pineville facility last month. While patients receive treatment, Gould monitors a bank of computer and video screens to make sure that the accelerator is doing its job and the patient remains comfortable. We didn’t meet the rest of the staff – we came late in the day as the center prepared for an open house that night – but those people have a lot to do with the quality of a patient’s treatment. Reich is clearly proud of the new center with its spacious new quarters and advanced technology. Yet a big part of the treatment process is people caring for people, and Reich said that the center’s team – which also ran the previous center – has consistently received high marks on patient satisfaction surveys.
Facts about the CMC-University Radiation Therapy Center
The new center opened in June in an 11,000-square foot addition to CMC-University. Total cost of center is $9.75 million.
- Purpose: The new center replaces a smaller off-site therapy center. The new center offers state-of-the-art equipment and room for expansion.
- Equipment includes:
- A 16-slice CT scanner that can locate tumors with increased accuracy and precision.
- Advanced linear accelerator that provides volumetric modulated arc therapy (VMAT). This lets physicians direct more targeted and powerful radiation to the tumor site while lowering the average radiation treatment time from 20 minutes to two minutes.
- Conference room with videoconferencing capability to connect physicians and staff at multiple Levine Cancer Institute locations.
- Location advantages: New facility operates within CMC-University, with separate entrance and parking to facilitate outpatient treatment. Patients requiring hospitalization at CMC-University have easy access to the center. The center will be a short walk from the future LYNX light-rail station on North Tryon Street.
- Improvement to care at CMC-University: The hospital now offers on-site cancer treatment in every modality, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.