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March 03, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Long-awaited cancer center finally opens Long-awaited cancer center finally opens (March 03, 2004)

Facility consolidates Stanford cancer clinics, aims at improved services

by Jocelyn Dong

Donna Healey is one Stanford Medical Center employee who was more than ready for the campus' new $87 million cancer center, which opened Monday after a decade of anticipation.

For years, Healey, a nurse manager, has administered chemotherapy to cancer patients in windowless hospital rooms that she described as "dank and dingy." At times, patients had to walk from one end of Stanford Hospital to the other to complete parts of their treatment.

"They made it through (the regimen) because they needed to," Healey said, but the environment was far from nurturing.

In the new cancer center, patients receive care in a single infusion-treatment area -- a place with twice as much room as the hospital's four old areas combined. In the waiting room, the image of a peaceful river burbles on a flat-screen TV while Japanese flute music wafts down from the ceiling. For the four to 10 hours it takes to receive infusions, injections and other care, patients can watch programs while resting on recliners, chat with one another, or gaze out of large, second-floor windows.

"We're so excited about moving to a place like this," Healey said. "It's more soothing, calming and comfortable."

Improved patient care is among the top reasons Stanford built the four-story, 222,000-square-foot cancer center, located adjacent to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. The new center consolidated Stanford's outpatient cancer programs into one facility, offering advanced technology, a clinical research office, and amenities including a café, health library, meditation room, Zen garden and concierge service. It also promises better care for patients through collaboration among health-care providers, according to staff.

On the ground floor, the radiation-oncology center houses some of the most sophisticated technology in the area, said Dr. Richard Hoppe, chair of the department of radiation oncology. A modified PET/CT scanner, only one of two installed in the United States, enables physicians to locate cancers with greater accuracy prior to treatment, so that healthy tissue is not damaged.

"We have the maximum in precision radiation therapy," Hoppe said.

In addition, the center is expected by March to house five linear accelerators, the most in a single building in the Bay Area. Resembling giant faucets, the accelerators create high-energy X-rays and electrons by using electricity to form a stream of fast-moving subatomic particles.

On the first floor, patients will consult with physicians at 18 specialized cancer clinics, each of which focuses on a different type of cancer. The clinics will also offer multidisciplinary "tumor boards" of three or more doctors who work together on a single patient's case. Stanford's large cancer staff enables the center to offer this type of specialized and yet multidisciplinary service, Hoppe said.

Luh Nelson, a Princeton lecturer diagnosed last Thanksgiving with invasive breast cancer, has participated in a tumor board. She said the philosophy of the panel was empowering because patients are expected to participate in the decision-making. In her case, the discovery of a suspicious lesion immediately prompted her to consider having a mastectomy, but after listening to information presented by the board she reconsidered and had a less drastic lumpectomy instead.

Today, she's feeling optimistic about her chances of beating cancer. She'll be one of the center's first radiation patients.

In addition to physical care, the facility offers emotional and informational resources. The Stanford Health Library has opened its fourth branch there, with resources focused on cancer. It includes books, periodicals and free access to all electronic journals in the Stanford Medical Center system.

Because of the trend toward having patients make more of their treatment decisions, some people may feel overwhelmed and unqualified to make an informed choice, said Nora Cain, the health library director. The library was put in the cancer center to allow patients to research their options and have a greater degree of knowledge and control.

Despite the fanfare of the cancer-center's debut, the road to the opening was hardly smooth. Over the years, both Menlo Park and Palo Alto city officials protested the expected impact that Stanford's building projects -- including the new center -- would have on traffic and housing. The draft environmental-impact report predicted up to 500 more staff would work in the facility -- currently there are 300 employees.

Eventually, however, public support for the center swayed officials to approve the plan, with certain restrictions. According to Stanford, half of the building's $87 million price tag was picked up by donors. Assistant Editor Jocelyn Dong can be reached at

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