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Obici applies for improved cancer treatment

Cancer patients in Suffolk and Western Tidewater may soon have access to more targeted radiation treatments without the long drive to Norfolk or Newport News.

Sentara Obici Hospital has filed an application for a Certificate of Public Need to add Stereotactic Radiosurgery and Stereotactic Body Radiotherapy capabilities to its arsenal of weapons in the fight against cancer.

“It’s a highly precise form of radiation that was developed to treat small areas in the brain … and anywhere within the body you need that type of precision,” said Cindy Allen, vice president of oncology services for Sentara Cancer Network.

The specific radiation technologies are offered at hospitals in Norfolk and Newport News, but for many patients in Western Tidewater, the long drives, time off work, tunnel tolls and more prove too burdensome for them to go for daily treatments.

“It’s bringing a very precise service that doesn’t exist in the community now,” Allen said. “We mitigate the need to travel, which I think will really open the door to the community to these services.”

The technologies also offer the chance for fewer treatments — no more than five, while typical radiation lasts six or seven weeks with five treatments a week — and a shorter amount of time per treatment, further reducing the burden on the patient and his or her family.

More and better cancer treatment options are crucial in Suffolk and Western Tidewater, Allen said. The cancer death rate in Suffolk, Franklin and Isle of Wight County is significantly worse than in the state as a whole. The district ranks 30th out of 35 health districts for deaths from all types of cancer. It is 32nd of 35 for deaths from prostate cancer. Portsmouth ranks 35th in both measures.

“That’s something we have grave concern with,” Allen said. “Those (numbers) are very unfavorable.”

Dr. Victor Archie, director of radiation oncology at Sentara Obici Hospital, wrote a letter in support of the application, citing examples of local patients who opted for inferior treatments due to the logistical and financial barriers of traveling to Norfolk or Newport News.

“One of the things we have learned through our outreach and education is that transportation is a burden for Western Tidewater,” Allen said. “Oftentimes, it’s the patient plus the family that have to take off for rides. It’s very disruptive, especially for an extended period of time.”

The Virginia Department of Health will consider the hospital’s application for the Certificate of Public Need, a program that aims to control health care costs and ensure the viability of facilities.