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Where to Get the Best Cancer Care

Where to get the best cancer care

For Patients, What Does it Mean to Have Access to a Comprehensive Cancer Center That is Designated by the National Cancer Institute?

Rutgers Cancer Institute of new Jersey, a partner of RWJBarnabas Health, is the state’s only National Cancer Institute-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. Only 50 cancer centers in the U.S. have earned that classification. It’s an impressive achievement – but what does it mean to cancer patients and their families?

We asked Steven K. Libutti, MD, FACS, Senior Vice President of Oncology Services, RWJBarnabas Health, to explain. Dr. Libutti is also Director, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and Chancellor for Cancer Programs, Rutgers Biomedical Health and Sciences.

If a person who has been diagnosed with cancer asks your advice, what do you tell him or her?

A diagnosis of cancer can feel overwhelming, and people want to know where they should go for treatment in order to get the best possible outcome.

I always tell people that cancer doesn’t travel well. It’s more the rule than the exception that a patient requires multi-modality treatment, such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. The patient is best served by staying as close to home as possible while getting exceptional treatment.

Patients should listen to the advice given by their physician, and to get more than one opinion. They also need to be able to cut through the noise and static of the marketplace. That means they should understand the meaning of the word “comprehensive” when it refers to cancer treatment.

What does it mean to be a Comprehensive Cancer Center?

Many cancer centers will use the word “comprehensive,” but it doesn’t have the same meaning as a Comprehensive Cancer Center that’s designated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), which is very specific and prestigious.

An NCI designation is a five-year grant that is acquired through an arduous, competitive, years-long process. Only 70 cancer centers in the country are chosen and of those, only 50 receive the designation Comprehensive Cancer Center, meaning that they do laboratory research and clinical trials, as well as provide services directly to patients.

All of these centers collaborate and share information. When a patient goes to an NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, he or she gets the benefit of their collective knowledge, clinical trials and research.

Does a patient need to travel to New Brunswick, where Rutgers Cancer Institute is located, in order to take advantage of its services?

No. We have built a network across all 11 RWJBarnabas Health hospitals so that the outstanding treatment and care provided by Rutgers Cancer Institute is available as close to home as possible for all New Jerseyans and those in our region.

If, for example, a patient lives near Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, that patient will find that the cancer program there is anchored by Rutgers Cancer Institute; that he or she has access to many of the same clinical trials as those taking place in New Brunswick; and that experts in surgery and radiation oncology and so on are partnered with Rutgers cancer Institute.

Now, let’s say that a patient needs a specialized service – for example, a bone marrow transplant, which we do in New Brunswick. Because we have a coordinated system, we can seamlessly transfer care of that patient to New Brunswick. Our partnership with RWJBarnabas Health allows patients to enter the world of an NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center through multiple doors.

We’re also creating an extensive cancer navigation program to help patients throughout and after treatment. Our goal as a cancer program is not only to have the best treatments, physicians and clinical trials. It is also to give the best care in helping patients navigate what can be the most challenging period of their lives.

To learn more about programs and services at RWJBarnabas Health and the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, visit www.rwjbh.org/beatcancer.

THE CUTTING EDGE: BLOOD AND BONE MARROW TRANSPLANTS

For some cancer patients, a blood and bone marrow transplant (BMT) can be an effective treatment and even a potential cute. The Blood and Marrow Transplant Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey is the only such program in New Jersey that’s integrated within an NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“All blood and immune cells are made in the bone marrow,” explains Roger Strair, MD, PHD, Chief of Blood Disorders at Rutgers Cancer Institute. “Blood cells carry oxygen, fight infection, and prevent bleeding. Immune cells also fight infection by attacking anything in the body that perceived as bot belonging, or foreign.”

In a BMT procedure form a donor, a patient receives a transplant of healthy blood and immune cells and those cells in turn grow and make new cells, including immune cells that can attack cancer cells. If the person’s own cells are used, there is no immune attack of cancer, but the cells allow a rapid recovery from high-dose chemotherapy.

At Rutgers Cancer Institute, BMT is used to treat a variety of blood and immune disorders, including acute and chronic leukemias, various types of lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, multiple myeloma and more.