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Advanced Cancer Care With a Personal Touch
Over the past 30 years, the physicians of Austin Cancer Centers have built a reputation for treating not only patients’ cancers, but also the patients themselves. Dedicated to giving each patient personal attention, Austin Cancer Centers provides a comforting alternative to large, corporate cancer centers — treating the whole patient, close to home.
When this group of local oncologists founded Austin Cancer Centers in 2003, they did so with two guiding principles: compassion for patients and dedication to treating them with the most advanced tools. Today, as the practice continues to grow, exploring developments in medical technology and establishing new partnerships in the community, Austin Cancer Centers is staying true to its roots.
Defining Compassionate Care
Austin Cancer Centers views each individual not simply as a cancer case, but as a person with physical, emotional and social needs. Total care for each patient includes appropriate oncologic treatment modalities, with opportunities for enrollment in a clinical trial at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center or the Scott & White Cancer Institute. Also important are psychological and social support — including alternative modalities, which may benefit body and soul, and financial counseling to address the stress of treatment cost on patients and their families.
“We operate with the philosophy of treating the whole patient in a manner personalized to his or her individual disease and needs. This can extend past our services to include connecting patients with massage therapists, nutritionists or psychiatrists,” says Allison E. Gorrebeeck, M.D., medical oncologist and hematologist at Austin Cancer Centers. “We recognize that cancer can affect patients and their loved ones far beyond the physical element.”
The practice maintains relationships with the American Cancer Society, the LIVESTRONG Foundation and Breast Cancer Resource Centers of Texas to ensure patients have easy access to nonmedical support services. In addition, Austin Cancer Centers has developed a network of parallel providers for cancer patients, including physical therapy and rehabilitation experts, lymphedema specialists, yoga instructors, food bank programs, insurance counselors and medical assistance programs.
Tailoring Oncologic Treatment
Adhering to the core values of the group’s oncologists, Austin Cancer Centers has incorporated several sophisticated treatment modalities in radiation and medical oncology to benefit patients. The practice promotes personalization of oncologic care through targeted systemic agents and multiple chemotherapy options. All available standard targeted therapies are offered, as well as new agents for melanoma and lung cancer, which were recently approved by the FDA.
Austin Cancer Centers is the first practice in the Austin area to treat prostate cancer with the newly FDA‑approved PROVENGE vaccine. The first active immunization for any malignancy, the therapy consists of two parts. Patients undergo leukapheresis to harvest immune system cells called monocytes, which are then combined with proteins made by prostate cancer cells, at the Dendreon laboratory in California where PROVENGE is manufactured. The patient then receives three treatments, each two weeks apart, at one of the Austin Cancer Centers infusion facilities, which are located at the Georgetown, North Austin and Northwest Austin clinics.
In the body, the vaccine trains the immune system to recognize and attack prostate cancer cells. Dendritic cells, created from the monocytes gathered during leukapheresis, activate T-cells once infused back into the body. T-cells, otherwise known as “natural killer cells,” are like the immune system’s CIA, with an inherent ability to attack and destroy specific targets that constitute a threat to the body’s health. After treatment with PROVENGE, newly trained T-cells recognize prostate cancer cells as dangerous and single them out for attack.
For breast cancer patients, Austin Cancer Centers offers AccuBoost radiation therapy — a highly targeted treatment that combines high-dose rate brachytherapy with digital mammography to directly irradiate the tumor bed. This technology is delivered in the postoperative setting, usually prior to whole-breast irradiation. It replaces the standard electron beam boost, which is not usually image-guided, allowing visual localization of the target with each treatment. Austin Cancer Centers has also entered into a joint venture with Seton Healthcare and Alliance Oncology to bring Austin CyberKnife to Central Texas oncology patients. The stereotactic radiosurgery system delivers high-dose, extremely precise radiation therapy over a short course of one to five treatment days. Functional disorders; benign, as well as malignant, tumors and vascular malformations of the brain; and malignancies of liver, lung, musculoskeletal sites, pancreas, prostate, spine and skull base may be appropriate for CyberKnife treatment.
The CyberKnife system integrates flexible precision radiation beam delivery with real-time imaging, a combination that makes it possible to treat cancer in almost every anatomical location with increased doses and a reduced number of sessions. During beam delivery, the Synchrony System employs cameras, fiber-optic sensing technology, infrared emitters and system-specific software to monitor both external body and internal organ positioning, while tracking and treating the tumor target. Often, markers placed before the therapy enhance the precision of targeting. Based on the imaging data, the CyberKnife’s robotic arm adjusts to a unique angle, providing a flexibility that enables radiation
oncologists to both maximize curative radiation doses to the tumor and minimize doses to surrounding tissue, significantly decreasing the possibility of damage to normal organs.
Austin CyberKnife consists of three of Austin Cancer Centers’ radiation oncologists — Douglas Rivera, M.D.; Stephen Brown, M.D.; and Shannon Cox, M.D. — who evaluate patients at Austin Cancer Centers for CyberKnife radiosurgery. The CyberKnife system is located at University Medical Center Brackenridge, where Drs. Rivera, Brown and Cox are joined by Ronald J. Wilson, M.D., a neurosurgeon who subspecializes in stereotactic radiosurgery. Alliance Oncology, a national health care organization focused on improving oncologic care through the creation or enhancement of cancer centers, assists with management and marketing services.
“This is the only CyberKnife center in the Austin metro area,” says Dr. Rivera, partner and radiation oncologist at Austin Cancer Centers and Medical Director of Austin CyberKnife. “Austin Cancer Centers is providing the clinical support for the joint venture, while Alliance Oncology brings a level of national experience and Seton Healthcare offers infrastructural support.”
A Collaborative Approach
Austin Cancer Centers treats both rare and common cancers, coordinating all levels of care from diagnosis and staging through oncologic surgery to chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Services are available for all age populations — childhood cancers are cared for by the area’s oldest pediatric radiation oncology program in partnership with Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas. Austin Cancer Centers provides radiation therapy at its Georgetown, Central Austin, North Austin and Northwest Austin locations, in addition to Austin CyberKnife.
Successful patient outcomes are achieved by taking into account multiple variables, including tumor site, stage of disease, patient comorbidities, psychological and social resources available to patients and families, and other factors. Austin Cancer Center creates the most appropriate arrangement of prescribed treatment options for each patient. Radiation can be delivered via advanced therapy technologies, such as CyberKnife or AccuBoost, while chemotherapy can be given in the adjuvant and nonadjuvant settings.
In Austin, members of the practice attend various tumor boards throughout the city to foster collaborative relationships with partner hospitals and other specialists. At Georgetown Cancer Center, a satellite of Austin Cancer Centers within St. David’s Georgetown Hospital, a multidisciplinary tumor board meets monthly and includes general surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists and, uniquely, primary care physicians. This shared effort allows for a fuller perspective when considering each patient’s situation.
“At tumor board, we discuss the patient’s presentation, pathology and imaging. As a group, we consider all possible treatment options,” says Benjamin J. Downie, M.D., medical oncologist at Austin and Georgetown Cancer Centers, who moderates the Georgetown Hospital Tumor Board. “Together, we formulate a specific treatment plan based on the highest-quality standards of care.”
Meeting the Community’s Needs
As the community’s need for quality cancer care has grown, Austin Cancer Centers has responded. The Georgetown clinic opened in Summer 2009, followed by a merger with a well-established medical oncology group in Fall 2009, making Austin Cancer Centers a comprehensive oncology provider. The Austin CyberKnife partnership between Austin Cancer Centers’ radiation oncology partners and Seton Healthcare launched in March of this year. The practice is currently planning for the incorporation of medical oncology services at the North Austin location inside North Austin Medical Center.
The expansions have been facilitated by the addition of other board-certified oncology physicians. Austin Cancer Centers anticipates the addition of a new radiation oncologist in October. Dr. Paiman Ghafoori will join the team after serving as an assistant professor of radiation oncology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC. Dr. Ghafoori received his medical training at Harvard Medical School and completed his residency at Duke.
“We were one of the first centers of our kind in the Austin area and remain one of the most experienced practices,” says Dr. Rivera. “With the new clinics and physicians we have brought into the fold, we have grown into a multiple specialty group for comprehensive cancer care.”
To learn more about the services available at Austin Cancer Centers, visit
MD News October 2011, Austin