FOR MANY cancer patients, being shifted from one clinic to another or from one country to another for treatment is like a slow but sure death.

The UST Hospital has the hardships of cancer patients in mind always when it completed its P350-million Benavidez Cancer Institute (BCI), the latest addition to its five-year redevelopment and expansion program.

“We conceptualized this institute to be a one-stop shop where patients come and all of the treatment facilities and specialties will be available to them,” Dr. Karl Morales, the head of the Clinical Oncology Department of the BCI, told the Varsitarian.

Some 10 cancer patients will be treated every day, complete from therapy to recovery, Morales added.

Being the first structure in the country entirely dedicated to cancer care, the BCI, named after the University’s founder, Fr. Miguel de Benavides, O.P., offers everything that can be used for cancer treatment from research, screening, diagnosis, treatment, follow-up care, and pain management in a single institute.

“This is not the only cancer institute in the Philippines, but this is the first institute with a separate building, involving a multidisciplinary team approach in cancer treatment,” USTH Medical director Rolando Cabatu told the Varsitarian.

“In general, it does not differ from the usual practice of medicine except that institute patients will be attended by a team of doctors and not just a single doctor,” Cabatu said. “The usual practice is that the patient is seen by one doctor and the doctor makes referrals to other doctors.”

The institute houses specialized rooms for each type of patient, and each room will be managed by a team. There will be a breast unit, a gastrointestinal unit, a genitourinary unit, a gynecology unit, a head and neck unit, an adult hematology unit, a pediatric hematology and oncology unit, a neurology unit, a skin, soft tissue and bone unit, a thoracic unit, a cancer pain unit, and finally a nutrition unit. “It is named unit rather than a clinic because the patient receives treatment from not only one doctor but by a team of multidisciplinary specialists,” Cabatu said.

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According to Dr. Gina Panuncialman, director of the BCI, another edge of the institute is its staff.

“Human resources are always an important thing in any organization supported by technology. We have a wealth of human resources here and our technology is state-of-the-art,” she said.

Dr. Teresa Ortin, head of the Radiation Oncology Department, added that t he difference between the BCI and other institutes is its vision and mission.

“We have a more concrete vision and mission as far as what we want to achieve is concerned and this is to provide organized cancer care and to get all of the doctors together to help the patient sort out his problem,” Ortin told the Varsitarian.

All-in-one

Located at the ground floor of BCI is the P150-million Linear Accelerator (Linac), which uses an external beam of radiation to treat cancer and can accommodate 60 treatments per day.

Before the patient is entered into the Linac room, Computed Tomography images of the patient are used to make a mold worn by the patient during the Linac treatment, usually in the head or any other affected part of the body to protect him from accidental radiation.

The Linac beam would only traverse through the hole in the mold and target a very specific area so surrounding cells are not affected by radiation.

There are also numerous services for the screening and diagnosis of cancer such as screening mammography, breast ultrasound, stereotactic and ultrasound guided wire localization, ultrasound-guided core biopsy, cyst aspiration, fine needle aspiration biopsy, and galactogram.

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Screening mammography involves taking two high-quality images using a special breast imaging x-ray equipment for the early diagnosis of patients who do not manifest any symptoms of the disease.

The breast ultrasound uses sound waves to evaluate lumps in the breasts while a biopsy removes and examines tissues from a body part for diagnosis.

Meanwhile, in breast cyst aspiration, a needle is inserted into the lump in the breast and will withdraw fluid from a breast cyst, a filled sac inside the breast, to be examined for diagnosis.

The galactogram is a special type of mammogram used to detect abnormalities in the breast duct, the passage of milk to the nipple.

Other than screening for cancer cells, the BCI also offers radiation therapy under its Department of Radiation Oncology. The services include external beam radiation therapy, conventional radiation therapy, intensity modulated conformal radiation, stereotactic radiosurgery, and brachytherapy.

External beam radiation therapy involves the delivery of a high-energy x-ray beam to the patient’s tumor, using the Linac. The conventional radiation therapy uses external beams directed at the tumor to kill cancer cells.

Intensity modulated conformal radiation involves the high-precision delivery of radiation doses that conforms to the three-dimensional shape of the tumor. This also uses the Linac.

Stereotactic radiosurgery, on the other hand, might be the most complicated procedure because this involves diagnosing and treating brain tumors. It requires a high dose of radiation delivered in a very precise and focused way in only one session.

The brachytherapy uses a radioactive source, also called “seed”, planted directly inside or near the patient’s tumor. It is limited to the use of soft tissue cancers, gynecologic, prostate, upper gastrointestinal tract, or esophagus cancer.

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Compared to Linac that involves external radiation, brachytherapy involves implantation guided by ultrasound for cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Patients with breast cancer will be attended in the breast-imaging area. This houses the improved mammography machine with new breast ultrasound machine. This breast imaging area is a part of the envisioned breast clinic screening for non-cancer patients for early detection and prevention.

On the second floor of the BCI are the numerous cancer care units, while an ambulatory unit is located at the third floor of the institute. According to Panuncialman, patients can receive out-patient treatment for their cancer here. “There are even separate treatment rooms for adult and pediatrics patients alike,” she said.

In the future, the BCI may offer more services, fortifying its research functions and training programs.

“We have just started to function so I think as we go along, we should be able to see what our strengths and weaknesses are and then move in the direction which we think would help us achieve our goals,” Ortin said. Kingbherly L. Li, Laurence John R. Morales, and Celina Ann M. Tobias

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