NM cancer centers redefine importance of research

By Marissa Lucero / CJ 475 Reporter
Posted Nov. 1, 2012

People who receive cancer treatment in New Mexico are looking for state-of-the-art technology, qualified physicians and in-state care. But, how important is research advancements to those patients?

Treatment options differ in NM
[+] Click HERE for full-screen video
By Marissa Lucero

Cancer patients contribute to UNM research.

The University of New Mexico (UNM) Cancer Center is one of 67 cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute and the only one in the state.

Chief Administrative Officer at UNM Cancer Center Rae Ann Paden said, "It really lets our citizens here in the state know that you have the best and brightest clinicians, researchers and staff that are designated by the federal government."

The UNM Cancer Center services all major types of cancers including: breast, blood, liver, lung, gynecologic, urologic, head and neck. The center treats more than 15,000 newly-diagnosed patients a year, and almost 350 patients a day.

"The 350 may not always be new patients," Paden said. "They could be patients coming back for their treatment regimen or chemotherapy, but we see anyone and everyone here, regardless of their insurance carrier or those without insurance. That can't be said by most cancer centers in the state of New Mexico."

According to Paden, 60 percent of cancer patients in the state are treated at the UNM Cancer Center, and of that 60 percent, 1,042 of its patients are from Santa Fe County. Bernalillo and Sandoval County are the only two counties to have more patients seen in Albuquerque.

Christus St. Vincent Cancer Center is the newest addition of cancer centers in New Mexico, and after it's grand opening in January 2012, according to Director Ann Stoia, the center was much needed for Northern New Mexico.

"We have everything the patient needs to do in this building," Stoia said. "Before the patient would have to go to one place to get labs drawn, then to another to see a physician, then to another to receive chemotherapy and sometimes another to receive radiation. Not anymore, we're a one stop-shop."

Primary Physician Dr. Scott Herbert combined services with Christus St. Vincent Hospital, because of its well-rounded radiation program. In January 2012, both sides decided on an agreement to combine services.

"Right now the chemo suite treats about 30 patients a day, which is a lot of patients," Stoia said. "If we outgrow what we can do right now, we'll look at expanding hours, but hopefully we won't have to do that. But if we will, we're prepared."

Diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, Nathan, who wanted to withhold his last name, is receiving his third set of 12 chemotherapy treatments at Christus St. Vincent.

"I noticed a lump in my neck, so I went to my primary physician who did the initial biopsy and then the surgery. A small mass was removed from my neck and then I was referred here. Despite the situation, the staff here at the cancer center is excellent, but most of all I like my doctors" Nathan said.

According to Paden, the opening of Christus St. Vincent has not affected the UNM Cancer Center. "I think a lot of people do their homework, and I think we have a very sophisticated group of individuals in our state, and our research program is a testament to making potential patients have viable options for their care," she said.