Leading the fight
Thirteen years ago, Dr. William Newsom was treating cancer from his private Grass Valley office when he realized it just wasn’t working.
“It had to be more collaborative,” Newsom said.
So he brought the concept of a cancer center team to the board of Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital in Grass Valley and won approval. He helped set up the center a year later, and now is the medical director there.
Today, the hospital is among 10 percent of hospitals in the United States that meet the American College of Surgeons criteria to have a cancer center, Newsom said.
Every year, about 400 new patients walk into the Cancer Center at Sierra Nevada Memorial. Of those, one-quarter have breast cancer – a disease that kills more than 40,000 women every year, according to the National Cancer Institute.
The collaborative approach at the center helps doctors effectively treat breast cancer, which can have a wide range of treatment possibilities, depending on the person.
“Breast cancer is really common, but every case is different, with nuances on how they are to be treated,” Newsom said.
Nevada County has the second-highest rate of breast cancer in the state after Marin County, according to Newsom and the California Cancer Registry, which reported figures in a 2003 statewide report for the years 1995 to 1999. The report estimates that about 130 new cases of breast cancer occur here every year.
There are several reasons why one-fourth of the center’s patients have breast cancer, Newsom said.
“One big risk factor is late first pregnancies,” Newsom said. “That goes with the higher socioeconomic status here. You put off having children because you wait to go to college first.
“The other risk factor is age, and we’re one of the grayest counties in the state, so we see a lot of older people with breast cancer.”
Yet many breast cancer patients also survive here.
“There is access to screening here for low cost and no cost mammograms,” Newsom said. “Early detection means better survival.
“Second, we provide state-of-the-art treatment for every woman who walks through the door,” Newsom said. “Our goal is for nobody to fall through the cracks.”
Some people don’t have the money, the inclination or the transportation to get treated. That’s where the center’s oncology social services come in, Newsom said.
“They can make arrangements for transportation and counseling,” Newsom said.
They can also help patients get MediCal to pay for treatment.
“We try to do the best we can to help people overcome financial barriers,” Newsom added.
Social services are just one part of the team concept the center brings to all its cases, Newsom said. Each patient can get consultations from a radiologist, pathologist, surgeon, and research includes a psychological and nutritional review.
Breast cancer cases are often referred to the hospital’s Tumor Board, where doctors, nutritionists, nurses and others dealing with the case suggest ideas for treatment.
With all that information and help, a breast cancer patient can sit down with her main physician and perhaps others involved to discuss what is the best treatment for her, Newsom said.
“The old, paternalistic way of telling them what we will do is over,” Newsom said.
The team puts the patient’s information into a computer model with test results, age, the size of the tumor, whether it has spread to the lymph nodes and other aspects of the case.
The computer then spits out a variety of treatment methods and survival rates that the patient can review and decide for herself, Newsom said.
“The patient’s decision can be complicated, but they can make the right one for them,” Newsom said.
As an example, Newsom said, a patient who is in her early 50s with no lymph node spread and a breast tumor may find out she has a 97 percent chance of survival at five years by doing nothing.
Some patients would opt to do that, while others fear even the 3 percent chance of death, and would choose to deal with the cancer aggressively and immediately, Newsom said.
To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem@the union.com or call 477-4237.
Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital will hold its third annual breast cancer symposium from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the Outpatient Center conference rooms.
A $10 ticket includes lunch and discussions from local doctors and nutritionists about the latest in breast cancer treatment strategies and interventions. Topics include mammograms and beyond, surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and nutrition.
For more information or to register, call the hospital’s educational services office at 274-6108.
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