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CHCC inaugurates Oncology Center

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THE Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. on Monday inaugurated its Oncology Center, which offers diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

The center is located on the second floor of CHCC, adjacent to the Hemodialysis Center.

CHCC has also renovated its Chest/TB Center to provide space for cancer treatment.

Renea Raho, CHCC director of nursing, said the TB program is now located at the Division of Public Health near the Immunization Program office, while treatment is provided at the Family Care Clinic.

The Oncology Center is headed by Dr. Peter Brett who is certified in  internal medicine and medical oncology by the American Board of Internal Medicine.

Dr. Brett, who has been an oncologist for more than 25 years, aims to develop a more comprehensive oncology program with a focus on full-service diagnosis and treatment modalities, and patient and family education.

“Cancer is one of the biggest tragedies to affect someone,” he said. “It doesn’t just affect the person who has it, it affects their close relatives and friends and family and the community.”

Although the center cannot perform  complex radiation treatments or complex surgery, Dr. Brett said they provide most of the usual cancer care services. These include:

  • Review of tissue biopsies (with CHCC pathologist) to make sure the diagnosis of cancer and what type of cancer the patient has is correct.
  • Advanced molecular analysis of tissue biopsies that can allow for targeted treatments.
  • Advanced imaging with CT scans, ultrasound, and plain film to “stage” a patient’s cancer, and determine how the cancer is responding to treatment.
  • Thorough patient histories and careful examinations of patients to understand how the cancer developed, how it is affecting the patient, and to assess for possible complications of the cancer or treatment.
  • The most advanced chemotherapy treatment.
  • The most advanced oral treatment against cancer mutations.
  • The most advanced immunotherapy treatment and treatment combinations available that stimulate the patient’s immune system to attack the cancer.
  • Nutritional and healthy lifestyle counseling.
  • Coordination of care with CHCC surgeons, when surgery is appropriate.
  • Referral to off-island radiation and specialty surgeons when appropriate, and coordination of care with off-island specialists.
  • Comprehensive follow-up care after cancer treatment, including blood testing and imaging when appropriate.

In the past, Dr. Brett  said some patients were getting treatment at CHCC, but most of the care was not provided locally. “So people are flying to the Philippines, or Guam or Hawaii or the mainland for a lot of their care and it was disruptive to people’s lives. It's hard enough to have cancer, but then they have to travel far away for months at a time. It's just very difficult.”

The Commonwealth Healthcare Corp’s Oncology Center officially opened on Monday. Photo by Lori Lyn C. Lirio

Lauri Ogumoro, CHCC board of trustees chairwoman, said CHCC is trying, as much as possible, to deliver “state-of-the-art cancer care in our own islands and make it accessible and culturally sensitive.”

She thanked Dr. Brett for his leadership as she also acknowledged CHCC internist Dr. John Smith, who has been working with cancer patients for 12 years, as well as the cancer team for taking care of  patients.

CHCC Chief Executive Officer Esther Muna said  CHCC received a lot of help to make the Oncology Center possible, including financial resources from an anonymous donor.

She said the center will allow people to get the treatment they need while with their family without worrying about the cost of going off-island.

“I encourage people — when they feel something is wrong, please see a doctor,” Muna said.

Saipan Mayor David M. Apatang joined CHCC  and other officials in the grand opening of the Oncology Center on Monday.

“Our people are the ultimate beneficiaries of the services that the center will provide,” he  said.

“The days of making travel arrangements, the pain of leaving the comfort of your home and loved ones, and the expenses to be incurred for seeking and receiving medical services in other places will soon be a thing of the past,” he added.

A cancer survivor himself, Apatang said the center can help detect cancer at an early stage. “This center is critical to how we will win the battle against  the disease.”

He hopes that CHCC is also developing its telemedicine capability and enhancing the quality and accuracy of diagnosis.

Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios congratulated CHCC for its new  center.

Cancer affects many families on island, he said, adding that his father had cancer and had to undergo treatment in Hawaii for eight months. His mother had to be with his father, Palacios said.

“So we basically fended for ourselves. I was the oldest. I had to take care of my younger brothers and sisters. Our family struggled — we struggled with the absence of our parents.”

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