By MARC LUTZ
Business Journal Editor
STOCKTON — More than five hundred cases of cancer are treated at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Medical Center each year, 95 percent of which receive radiation therapy. That number continues to grow.
In its efforts to treat cancer patients more effectively — and with better results — St. Joseph’s is raising funds to replace its two current linear accelerators with updated, more precise models.
“The quality of the cancer care that we’ve been able to deliver here in on the level of many academic centers, which is why we’ve gained accreditation from the American College of Surgeons for our high-quality cancer program, and we’ve been designated as a Center of Excellence for breast cancer care,” said Gauravjit Singh, MD, radiation oncologist at the St. Joseph’s Cancer Institute. “At the heart of our cancer center are our radiation machines … These machines deliver targeted radiation to cancer cells, thereby destroying them.”
Singh went on to say that the machines need to be powerful, precise and up-to-date. As technology advances, the new machines that the hospital is seeking to purchase can deliver better, more efficient treatment than the current models.
Patients undergoing radiation treatment currently spend about 40 minutes per session. Singh said the newer machines would reduce the session time to under 10 minutes. In most cases, treatment can take anywhere from six to seven weeks of therapy. With the updated technology, that treatment could be reduced to about one week or even just a few visits.
“With the newer machines, we will have improved accuracy and precision with the radiation beam, which will allow us to escalate the dose to the tumor while minimizing the dose to the surrounding tissues,” Singh said to gathered crowd of patients, donors, staff and others. “This is the main paradigm of radiation oncology.”
The efficiency and speed of the new linear accelerators would also allow a reduced wait time for patients and treat more patients per day. St. Joseph’s typically treats 50 patients per day on average in its cancer institute.
According to Singh, the number of cancer cases is increasing year-over-year. That’s due to factors such as better screening techniques and an increase in the population.
But the cost of the new accelerators will not be cheap. For both machines, the cost will be about $5.5 million, plus the costs of a slight remodel to the cancer treatment offices to fit the equipment.
Some of the funding for the new equipment will come through the efforts of the St. Joseph’s Foundation of San Joaquin, a nonprofit organization that raises money specifically for hospital endeavors. The foundation created a new campaign for the equipment called “Radiating Hope.”
“As a not-for-profit hospital, we know our community donors are the reason we’re able to expand, create and sustain state-of-the-art services and programs that provide for the changing healthcare needs of our community,” said Lindsay Bureaux, development officer with the foundation. “Support through charitable giving helps provide new facilities and equipment, new programs and services, health education, community outreach and charity care.”
Bureaux unveiled the Radiating Hope campaign, which has set a goal of raising $2 million. President and CEO of St. Joseph’s Medical Center Don Wiley said the target to purchase the new equipment would be within the next two years.
“Hopefully, with the new equipment, we won’t even have to have the 33 doses I had of radiation. I’m really excited to hear that time will be shortened,” said Trish Linderman, a volunteer with the cancer center for 27 years, who underwent cancer treatment there 14 years ago.
Bureaux said those interested in donating to the campaign can do so online at StJosephsCares.org/RadiatingHope, in person at the St. Joseph’s Foundation office or by calling (209) 467-6347.