Methodist innovations fighting cancer 

Aug 29

Don't ask the physicians and employees at Methodist Hospitals how good they are because they won't tell you. Instead, they'll point to independent research that shows it.

The American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer has granted the Oncology Program at Methodist Hospitals a three-year accreditation for the past 25 years straight. The most recent accreditation gave the hospitals a "commendation." Methodist also received the highest ratings of Northwest Indiana hospitals in six specialties, including cancer, from US News & World Report magazine.

"Ninety percent of the cancers we treat, we do the same quality as the top hospitals in the country," said Dr. Bharat Barai, medical director of oncology, who has attended a board review course at least twice a year for the last 25 years to stay as current as possible.

Mary Jo Hagan, director of Oncology Clinical Services, said although the hospital has campuses in Gary and Merrillville, the employees consider it one hospital that prides itself on caring for its patients. That sentiment was a driving force behind one of the most unique attributes in terms of patient care at Methodist Hospitals, the Cancer Case Review Conference.

The conferences, held every other Wednesday, were implemented about six years ago. All positive pathology cases are presented at one of the conferences and discussed by a five-member team consisting of medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, diagnostic radiologists, pathologist and a general surgeon.

The patient's attending physician is invited and often will come, which is good because they may have additional information about the patient, Hagan said. She said the conferences only work because the hospital has such a supportive medical staff.

Dr. Robert Woodburn, medical director of radiation therapy, helped develop a technique to treat breast cancer more quickly than through traditional radiation treatments. Called MammoFocus, the five-day process targets only the portion of the breast that needs treatment.

Woodburn said another treatment available requires twice-a-day treatments using only three beams. However, MammoFocus uses seven beams from different directions, only once a day. He describes it as the difference between the amount of light from pointing one flashlight at a wall compared to 10 different flashlights pointing at the same spot on a wall, all held in different places.

"We developed the technique here at Methodist," he said. "These technologies have existed for a long time. We just put them all together."

Woodburn said the hospital is getting the word out about the technique and will publish results from a research protocol before working on a process to teach the treatment across the country.

Barai said Methodist Hospitals is part of the Cancer and Leukemia Group B, a group that conduct research protocols and clinical trials.

"A lot of the same things people think they can only get in Chicago, you can get the same level of care in Northwest Indiana." Hagan said.

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