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MUHC's Cedars Cancer Centre to be a one-stop treatment centre

03/20/2015 05:00 EDT | Updated 05/19/2015 05:59 EDT
For a cancer patient, navigating where to go for their treatment can be a bit like an obstacle course.

Their oncologist may be located in one place, but their blood tests or chemotherapy are performed in another part of the hospital. They may need to go to another hospital altogether for radiation.

Right now, the Royal Victoria, Montreal General, the Montreal Chest Institute and the Children's Hospital all deliver cancer treatment.

This spring, most of the MUHC's oncology services will move to the Cedars Cancer Centre at the new superhospital.

"Instead of the patient being the one to go to multiple places, it will be patient-centred and the physicians, staff and the nursing all around the patient," says Dr. Armen Aprikian, the MUHC's chief of oncology.

The 13,000 square-metre facility will have a dedicated test centre where cancer patients can have their blood tests done. There will also be a satellite pharmacy and an urgent care centre so patients who are experiencing complications don't have to go to the emergency room.

Staff scheduling will also be built around each disease site.

"So there's a breast cancer clinic, a prostate cancer clinic, a lung cancer clinic which traditionally, at the moment, is not how we practice medicine," Aprikian says. "So the patient that is coming to see her and his oncologist for lung cancer, well the surgeon who took care of them, the radiation oncologist who took care of them is also seeing patients in that area. I think this greatly improves patient care."

Location, location, location

As they say in real estate, it's all about location. Aprikian thinks the centre, which has its own entrance, is in a privileged spot because it's the first building attached to the research institute.

"In terms of innovation, clinical trials, testing new drugs — anything that pushes cancer care forward, that pushes the envelope — we're linked to the research institute," says Aprikian. "So I think that helps the physicians and the nurses and the staff who are interested in research to continue their research because we're right beside the research institute."

New Equipment

The new cancer centre will also have new equipment.

The radiation therapy department has seven linear accelerators, one of which is called a CyberKnife.

Despite its name, no cutting is involved. For complex tumours, the treatment delivers beams of high dose radiation with pin-point accuracy. With that kind of precision, there is less of a chance that normal tissue will be damaged.

The machine is similar to the robots that are used to build cars in the automobile industry and uses image guidance software to move around the patient.

The CyberKnife cost more than $4 million and is the largest purchase for the facility.

The radiation oncology room layout has also changed to be more patient friendly.

Instead of being locked behind big, thick doors which can be psychologically traumatizing, the design is more open-concept. The radiation bunkers are designed in a maze-like layout which safely contains the radiation.

A window onto the outside

In some of the older facilities, space is tight and patients often have to wait for a long time to see their doctor or get treatment, Aprikian says, adding that a lot of thought went into design.

One of the ways the cancer centre hopes to brighten patients' lives is with natural light.

Big skylights line the hallways to let in sunshine and the chemotherapy bays have big windows that look out onto a garden.

"It's been shown that when patients are happier or more comfortable, they tolerate their treatments better. There's less need for reducing of dosages or altering schedules," says Dr. Aprikian.

Judy Martin was treated for breast cancer and underwent chemotherapy at the Royal Victoria Hospital. She completed active treatment and now goes for check-ups every six months. She recently toured the centre and was particularly impressed with the chemotherapy bays.

"I am a look-out-the-window kind of girl, so I think it's going to be unbelievable that you can sit there having chemicals pumped through your body...and for some, they won't be feeling their best. To be able to just look out and potentially see sunshine, it's going to be fantastic," she says.

Doors open end of April

The Cedars Cancer Centre will first to open its doors to patients transferring over from the Royal Victoria Hospital on April 26.

It will be fully operational on June 14 when the majority of oncology services from the Montreal General Hospital transfer over.

The centre will see about 700 patients a day with a projected volume of 170,000 annual visits.

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