Cancer treatment part 3: Will there ever be a cure? | SierraSun.com

Cancer treatment part 3: Will there ever be a cure?

Kyle Magin
Sierra Sun

Cancer isn’t a shrinking problem. One look at the cabinet where patient’s files are kept at the Tahoe Forest Hospital System’s cancer center proves that.

Hundreds of files appear when Cancer Center Director and Registered Nurse Eileen Knudson opens the door of a green cabinet, and the list, sadly, is growing every day.

Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the U.S. after heart disease, according to a 2005 report by the American Cancer Society, the most recent figures available.

In 2005, a total of 559,312 people in the U.S. died of cancer. That’s 5,424 more people than in 2004, according to the American Cancer Society.

According to a 2007 study published in the Journal of Oncology Practice, the number of Americans who are diagnosed with cancer ” both those in treatment and those who have finished therapy ” will grow to 18.2 million by 2020, up from 11.7 million in 2005. Today, about 1 in 26 Americans have had cancer. By 2020, roughly 1 in 19 will have been diagnosed with the disease, the report said.

Worldwide, the numbers aren’t any better. A 2008 World Health Organization World Cancer Report, released in December, predicted cancer will overtake heart disease as the world’s top killer by 2010, and that global cancer cases and deaths will more than double by 2030.

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The October introduction of Tahoe Forest’s partnership with the University of California, Davis’ cancer center may signal a way to treat a growing number of cases nation- and worldwide.

Technology couples a number of medical resources” doctors who specialize in nearly every facet of cancer treatment” to allow patients in Truckee or Tahoe to receive the same level of care and attention available to patients in San Francisco or Davis as a result of the partnership.

The partnership is considered revolutionary by cancer experts because it brings treatments only available at large medical centers to rural hospitals.

“Our intent (with this partnership) has been to build a model that is replicable,” said Dr. Scott Christensen, an oncologist and assistant professor of internal medicine at UC Davis. “We wanted to prove to others that this is possible.”

Christensen sees the idea, which includes virtual tumor boards video- conferencing doctors from every corner of California to view cancer cases from Truckee, working nationwide. Cancer patients wouldn’t need to leave their rural communities in areas like Northern Maine, West Texas, along the sparsely populated stretches of Easter Washington and Oregon and every out-of-the-way locale in between.

Dr. Larry Heifetz, the medical director at the Tahoe Forest Hospital System’s cancer center, sees even farther-ranging possibilities.

“What Davis is working on is useful, you can put this partnership out to the rest of the country if you can get it to work here, and if you can get it to work anywhere,” Heifetz said. “You could be in Ethiopia and get this kind of treatment as long as you have the technology.”

The technology needed includes video-conferencing equipment, diagnostic equipment, chemotherapy drugs and access to radiation.

Pat Keast, Regional Outreach and Community Network Coordinator at UC Davis, said the cancer center has already received inquiries into the partnership.