Hospital cancer unit upgraded

The $5.1 million cancer center at Plains Regional Medical Center has a vault linear accelerator that delivers the radiation therapy using pencil-thin beams of radiation that strike the tumor from all angles. CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth.

By Jack King: CNJ staff writer

A newly equipped, $5.1 million cancer center at Plains Regional Medical Center will offer area cancer victims a chance to get up-to-date treatment close to home.

Hospital officials plan a reception at the center from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, during which doctors and staff will be available to answer questions, center director Sheryll Plyler said.

The cancer center has been providing chemotherapy treatment since January, only recently has received radiation equipment and will begin offering radiation services in mid-June, Plyler said.

It will be the first cancer center equipped for radiation therapy within a two-hour drive of Clovis. Previously, the closest treatment centers were in Amarillo, Lubbock or Roswell, she said.

“The biggest advantage is that we’ll be able to offer treatment close to home,” Plyler said.

“Cancer patients usually are debilitated. Radiation and chemotherapy can produce side effects and fatigue. It’s difficult to travel when you’re in that condition. Radiation therapy only lasts 10 to 15 minutes. To travel two hours for a 10-minute treatment, then turn around and come home, on a daily basis, is draining,” she said.

Jan Garrett, a co-founder and member of Sister Strength, a Clovis cancer victims support group, said local radiation treatment will be a great advantage for many people.

“When I had cancer, I went to Lubbock every weekday for seven weeks to get radiation treatment. It will be wonderful to have radiation treatment available in Clovis,” she said.

“I’ve known people whose insurance wouldn’t pay for their treatment anywhere but in New Mexico. Those people had to go to Albuquerque and either drive back and forth or arrange to stay there. … This will be very welcome.”

Plyler said the center will begin by providing radiation therapy to between 10 and 15 patients on a daily basis, then expand to between 15 and 30. They hope to serve about the same number of chemotherapy patients, she said.

Equipment at the center now includes a spiral computerized tomography (CT) scanner and a linear accelerator. The CT scanner takes numerous pictures from multiple angles of the tumor, which allows doctors to plan treatment protocols that minimize the chance of hitting healthy tissue with radiation. A linear accelerator delivers the radiation therapy using pencil-thin beams of radiation that strike the tumor from all angles, so patients get the maximum dosage in the most efficient manner, Plyler said.

For radiation treatment, doctors usually prescribe daily treatments Monday through Friday, depending on the type of cancer.

For chemotherapy, the administration of drugs toxic to cancer cells, new drugs and new treatment protocols are being developed all the time, Plyler said.

“But we’re not doing research here. We’re administering accepted and proven protocols,” she said.