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October 10, 2002

Hillman Cancer Center opens

During its first 17 years in the war against cancer, the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) has conducted gene therapy trials, discovered protein markers for human prostate, bladder and colon cancers, and developed and clinically tested the first synthetic peptide vaccine against advanced cancers, among many other achievements.

Prior to a news conference yesterday to mark the opening of the Hillman Cancer Center at UPMC Shadyside, cancer survivor Mark Kosanovich talked about a comparatively minor — yet significant — new UPCI achievement: valet parking for patients.

“It’s going to be fantastic,” Kosanovich said of the Hillman Center’s patient-friendly parking system. “I was diagnosed with melanoma in March 2000. I received great treatment at UPMC Montefiore and Magee, but the parking situation at each of those hospitals was a zoo.”

Kosanovich, a mechanical-electrical supervisor for the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health’s Pittsburgh Research Center, pointed out: “The battle against cancer, although it occurs in the body, affects your mind just as much. The facilities that they’ve built here and the people who are utilized here put you so much at ease. It takes the mental strain away from you and your family, so that it actually helps you to fight the battle.”

The $130 million Hillman Cancer Center — a 350,000-square-foot, comprehensive cancer center — brings UPCI’s academic and research programs under one roof and serves as the hub for the UPMC Cancer Centers, a network of more than 30 office-based medical oncology practices and regional cancer centers in western Pennsylvania. The network employs 2,100 health care professionals, including 185 physicians and 20 radiation physicists.

The collaboration between clinical investigators and basic scientists at the center promises to accelerate the discovery and implementation of cancer prevention, detection, diagnostic and treatment approaches, said UPCI director Ronald B. Herberman.

It also will make life easier for UPMC cancer patients and their families, he said. The Hillman Cancer Center brings together cancer specialists from 12 different UPMC hospitals. Even patients whose treatment had been limited to UPMC Presbyterian often had been required to “traipse around quite a number of places” within the huge Presby complex, Herberman said. “Now, all of the doctors will come to the patients in the same place.”

Joining Herberman at yesterday’s news conference was Andrew C. von Eschenbach, director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), which sets the national agenda and allocates the large majority of federal funding for cancer research and education. NCI allocates $34 million annually to UPCI, which is the region’s only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center and one of only 43 in the United States.

Von Eschenbach called the Hillman Center a “great resource for the entire country” and a model for other cancer centers. “Not only is there the opportunity for multi-disciplinary, integrated care here,” he said, “but what this center is also implementing is an exceptionally effective mechanism for distributing state-of-the-art care more widely throughout the region.”

The Hillman Cancer Center houses both a research pavilion and a clinical pavilion connected by a three-story atrium lobby that was designed to offer a warm welcome to patients, visitors, physicians, scientists and staff.

The research pavilion is devoted to basic and traditional research programs in areas such as immunology, molecular oncology and drug discovery. It can accommodate more than 450 laboratory personnel.

The clinical pavilion is the center for patient care. It offers cancer prevention, risk assessment, detection, treatment, and stress and symptom management services. It also includes waiting rooms equipped with televisions and play areas for children and access to a kitchen stocked with beverages and light refreshments.

Sophisticated radiology services such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) and positron emission tomography (PET) are offered at the center. A pedestrian bridge connects the center to UPMC Shadyside, where cancer surgery and Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) are conducted. An advanced imaging technology, IMRT focuses radiation beams to the precise shapes of a tumor, delivering a higher concentrated dose while minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissue.

Herberman noted: “Much of the Hillman Cancer Center is designed for the healthy population — for risk assessment, prevention programs and early detection and diagnosis of cancer.”

In addition to valet parking, center amenities include a patient and family education and information center, a garden and meditation area, a café, a gift shop and a salon where patients can receive salon services and purchase wigs, hats, skin care products and prostheses.

—Bruce Steele

According to the NCI, half of all men and one-third of all women in the United States will develop cancer. Some 69,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year and 30,000 Americans will die of cancer, the institute estimates. Western Pennsylvania’s population, with a proportion of elderly people second only to that of Dade County, Fla., suffers disproportionately from cancer, noted UPCI’s Ronald Herberman.

The “great hope” is that the Hillman Cancer Center will help to pioneer “a totally, completely, fundamentally different way of dealing with cancer,” said the NCI’s Andrew von Eschenbach, himself a cancer survivor. “Back in 1971, when we as a country declared war against cancer, we didn’t have the weapons with which to fight that war,” he said, recalling President Nixon’s signing of the National Cancer Act that year. “We were trying to eliminate cancer with weapons of destruction — surgery, chemotherapy and radiation — and even they at that time weren’t anywhere near as good as they are today. So, we were struggling to find and destroy, and obviously that has improved the outcome for some cancers” such as testicular cancer.

Thanks to research at places such as UPCI, “we are now beginning to understand cancer at a genetic, molecular and cellular level, so we’re beginning to learn how cancer begins, why cancer cells behave the way they do by invading and spreading to other parts of the body, and why they eventually kill,” von Eschenbach said.

“The knowledge that’s being gained and developed at places like the Hillman Cancer Center is now being translated into treatments that can intervene in those processes.”

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 35 Issue 4

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