Radiation treatments were first used as cancer treatment at the Mary Fletcher Hospital approximately 45 years ago. While a very few specialized cancer hospitals had oncology specialists and radiation machines earlier than that, most general hospitals did not develop cancer treatment programs until radiation treatment machines became commercially available in the early 1960’s. Like most hospitals of that era, general radiologists at Mary Fletcher directed radiation delivery in rooms that were added to the diagnostic radiology department.
Much has changed in the use of radiation for the treatment of cancer over the last 45 years. Specialized training and board certification in radiation oncology became available in the 1980’s. Studies published in the 1970’s and 1980’s showed that many women with breast cancer could be successfully treated with radiation without needing breast removal; people with sarcomas of the arms and legs could be treated with radiation rather than amputation; people with cancer of the larynx could be treated with radiation and avoid removal of their voice box. The number of people who need radiation treatment has increased as the indications for its use continue to grow, and as our population gets older and more prone to develop cancer.
The radiation oncology department at the UVM Medical Center has also evolved. Originally an extra room in radiology, it has required more space over the years, and is now too busy to be accommodated in its current location. Therefore, we have been planning for a new space to house the department – scheduled to open September 8 – for the past several years.
Prior to designing the new department we sat with some patients and asked them what they felt was needed to make the new space as comfortable for them as possible. We constantly recalled their recommendations during the design process. Patient privacy will be enhanced by a carefully thought out floor plan and dedicated, individual waiting spaces for patients waiting for treatment. All of the functions of the department (patient consultation, treatment planning, delivery and follow-up) will be consolidated in one location, currently not available as the needs of the department exceed available space. The radiation treatment machines at the UVM Medical Center have proven to be reliable and effective tools for many years. There has been rapid evolution in radiation delivery techniques over the last 10 years, and the decision to build a new department was timed well to take advantage of the technologies available on new machines. The newly installed machines will have the capability to treat a patient immediately after taking x-ray images to confirm the location of the target and surrounding normal structures. While we do this currently, the process is slow and labor-intensive. The new digital system will immediately display the pre-treatment images on a computer screen, shortening the time the patient will have to lie on the treatment table.
The new radiation oncology department will improve many aspects of care for patients with cancer treated at the UVM Medical Center. The new space is inviting, warm, private and comfortable. The consolidation of the department in one location will improve our ability to provide time-efficient and personal care to every patient. We will have the space to continue to grow and evolve as further improvements in radiation treatment continue in the years to come.
We are very much looking forward to seeing our first patients in the new department on September 8.
H. James Wallace, MD, is the medical director of Radiation Oncology at the UVM Medical Center. His areas of expertise include genitourinary cancer, lymphoma, pediatric cancer and radiosurgery. He is also an associate professor at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM.