Cancer Center at Phoenixville Hospital reveals state-of-the-art expansion

Lori McFarland, The Cancer Center at Phoenixville Hospital's Lead Therapist, shows off some of the capabilities of the center's new linear accelerator. Photo by J. Finneran/PR&I

The most advanced cancer-fighting technology which science has to offer was revealed to the public on the evening of October 23 at an open house revealing the latest expansion to The Cancer Center at Phoenixville Hospital.

Tours of the new 1300 square foot facility were given throughout the evening, with the star of the show being the new Varian TrueBeam linear accelerator, considered to be the finest radiation therapy delivery device in the world today, and the special vault which houses it. The new device is one of 1500 in the world, and among several in the Delaware Valley Region.

The cancer center is partner with the Penn Cancer Network, run by the University of Pennsylvania. The expansion came as the result of a joint effort between Phoenixville Hospital, the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation and Penn Medicine. The $2 million facility expansion was funded by Ches-Mont Valley Ventures, Inc. and the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation. The owner of Phoenixville Hospital – Community Health Systems - paid for the multi-million dollar linear accelerator.

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An assembly of special guests, which included the many facilitators who teamed together to bring the cutting edge technology Phoenixville, joined together outside of the center’s main entrance to hear the introductory remarks from Phoenixville Hospital Chief Executive Officer Steve Tullman, as well as President of Ches-Mont Valley Ventures, Inc. and former Phoenixville Community Health Foundation board member Jim Reading, University of Pennsylvania Radiation Oncology Network Director Rose Mueller, and Dr. Et-tsu Chen, Medical Director of Radiation Oncology at Phoenixville Hospital.

“I would like to welcome everybody. This this is a very joyous occasion and we have been working (on this expansion) for many, many years,” said Tullman.

He went on to thank the many partners who made the expansion possible, including hospital board members, Phoenixville Borough, Penn Medicine and the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation.

“It is nice to have opportunities to bring state-of-the-art equipment to the community,” he said.

Reading shared laugh with the crowd as to the amount of time was required in bringing the project to fruition.

“I’ve been keeping a little record here,” he said as he pulled a notecard from his jacket pocket, “I think I am up to 490 hours…. …It’s finished now, and on behalf of the (Community Health Foundation) we are we are proud to have contributed investment into the project.”

Mueller praised the Penn Medicine team for the joint effort required to prepare for implementation of the new accelerator, and she shared the following on Dr. Chen:

“There’s no better radiation oncologist than Et-tsu Chen, and she’s got the right equipment now to treat (patients) fully.”

Dr. Chen offered insight into the new technology and what it had to offer.

“It’s powerful, it’s precise, it’s efficient and it’s safe… …the same amount of radiation can be delivered in half the time as our previous machine (and provides) improved precision and accuracy,” she said.

She added that the device capabilities can be expanded upon in the future, and that the vault surrounding the accelerator was site specific construction using advanced modular high density shielding built by area company Veritas.

“The expansion and new equipment really speaks to Phoenixville Hospital and Steve Tullman’s huge investment and commitment, long term, to the greater Phoenixville community and to the future of oncology care,” Chen said as the introduction came to a close.

One of the special guests in attendance was Deborah Hanchuruch of Gilbertsville, who was diagnosed with cancer in March after a routine mammogram, and became the first patient at the cancer center to be treated with the new device.

“Tonight is exciting - I am extremely moved,” she said to the Phoenix Reporter & Item following the opening remarks. “This technology will help so many people (and) the staff here is top notch from the oncology staff to the nurses. Everyone was awesome.”

“It’s a fabulous machine and it is run by fabulous people,” said Dr. Christopher Holroyd, the Medical Director of the Cancer Center. “We have a wonderful staff, no question about it. This is good for the community, good for the center and good for the hospital.”

The Varian was ‘demoed’ for attendees by the facility’s Penn Medicine operating staff, including Dr. Chen and Chemical Medical Physicist Ken Hogue, who oversees the technical operations of the accelerator.

“It only takes one to two minutes to receive the radiation dose,” Hogue said. “We can treat 35 patients a day, and the machine is good for twenty years. This will be saving so many lives.”

Hogue said that the new device took four weeks to assemble – as it came in separate shipments – and that one piece, a tungsten sheathe which houses the ‘electron gun’ that directs the accelerated particles, weighs 10,000 pounds and had to be brought in on a crane that was carefully maneuvered atop metal plates which protected the floor.

“I couldn’t wait for the new device. You feel a lot of appreciation when you get to work with new technology,” said Lead Therapist Lori McFarland. “Everyone will be amazed at how (our capabilities have) improved.”

McFarland and Staff Therapist Alicia Senese, who operate the accelerator from the control room, each underwent over a month of specialized training in different locations both within and outside of Pennsylvania.

Tricia LaBella, a Nurse with Phoenixville Hospital who has over eight years if oncology experience and works in the Cancer Center, remarked on the wonderful synergy at the cancer center due to the department of oncology and the radiation treatment facility being housed adjacent to one another.

“It is great because (the two departments) are right next to one another and communicate so well together. It’s very exciting to see where we have come and where we are going to get to go.”