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Oncology services continue to grow at Sanford Worthington Medical Center

The Sanford Canter Center staff is shown. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

WORTHINGTON — One of the most significant changes at Sanford Worthington Medical Center in the past five years is in the area of oncology.

“As we reflect on the five years since Sanford’s purchase, we’ve added a lot of new programming,” SWMC CEO Mike Hammer said. “Most recently, about six months ago, we had the fortune to recruit a medical oncologist to complete the cancer services we have.

“We’ve been doing radiation oncology for over five years, and now we’re offering medical and radiation oncology, which fits within the whole strategy of developing Worthington as a hub. We offer a level of cancer service that’s very uncommon in small communities.”

Dr. Liangping Weng, who specializes in hematology and medical oncology at SWMC, explained that any patient that contracts a hematology (blood-related) disease and has cancer can have their care managed and treated locally.

“Within the Cancer Center, the patient is in the same place, and everything is taken care of here,” Weng said. “Now that we have medical oncology here, patients no longer have to go to Sioux Falls — or to other places like Mayo or the University of Minnesota. We can treat patients with all different common types of cancer — brain, breast, colon, rectal, prostate and kidney — and we offer aggressive treatment for lymphoma.

“Eighty-five to 90 percent of regimens can be provided to the patient here at the Cancer Center,” said Weng. 

Added Hammer: “With the number of treatments patients have to have, added in with the amount of travel that’s involved over so many days, weeks and months, having cancer services locally saves time, expense and travel.”

“Often someone has to drive the patient who’s receiving treatments, so having this is sort of a double convenience,” said Greg Shell, Sanford Worthington Clinic Manager.

Dr. H. Jae Yoon specializes in radiation oncology at SWMC. He emphasized that since the arrival of Dr. Weng, the cancer unit at SWMC has become “really a full-service cancer center.” The change has benefits to him, he said, as well as — but most importantly to — patients and their families. 

Dr. Yoon explained some of the treatments available at SWMC.

“Radiation is typically a daily treatment — Monday through Friday, five days a week, and it usually lasts six to seven weeks,” he said. “Each day takes about 15 minutes, generally, though it can vary. …Testicular cancer, for example, has a treatment of three weeks or so.”

Medical oncologists are surgeons who finish the staging work with a patient’s cancer. By the time of the staging workup, medical personnel frequently get together and work as a team to set a treatment plan.

“Oncology is extremely complex,” Hammer said. “They take care of the patient with all the interventions and the other different specialists that need to be involved. Identifying it (a cancer) is one thing, and then there’s managing the disease process which includes a wide variety of services.”

An example of the need for a team of caregivers, Weng said, is the fact some medicines administered during cancer treatments can be very toxic and result in highly negative side effects. For instance, a medicine that causes heart difficulty for a patient would require a cardiologist; for kidney problems, a nephrologist would be necessary. 

Yoon pointed out that Sanford has added capabilities to the CT scanner that now allows an interventional radiologist to perform biopsies.

Also available at SWMC are PET/CT scans, which Yoon noted are important in determining the nature of cancerous cells.

“It’s very helpful that we have that service,” he said. “I have to know exactly where the cancer is, because I need to aim and target the radiation exactly where it is to treat it effectively.”\

“The fact that Sanford made the investment in a full cancer program is in line with the hub concept to serve the area with full diagnostics and treatment in Worthington — that’s significant,” Hammer said.

Another key member of the SWMC oncology team is Robin Uithoven, a certified nurse practitioner who works in conjunction with Dr. Weng. While an oncologist such as Weng is the only one who can initiate a treatment plan, an individual such as Uithoven can follow through with a treatment plan.

“I do a lot of the education for patients when they get their chemotherapy and do monitoring with the infusion center,” Uithoven said. “As a patient gets infused, I check in with them. … We previously did not have that service. We also have a lot of same-day appointments for patients having complications, and I work in conjunction with Dr. Weng on those, too. With patients that survived their cancer, I also undergo surveillance with them and make sure they’re cancer-free.”

In terms of cancer prevention, digital mammography is a relatively new addition to the SWMC services. Colonoscopies and pap smears are also offered locally, Hammer said.

Dr. Weng also offers outreach to cancer patients in other communities. 

“The intention of this system is to develop services in Worthington and provide outreach of our oncology services to Sheldon, Iowa, Tracy, Windom, Slayton and Jackson,” Shell said. “Dr. Weng is outreaching two days a week to those communities and, with the addition of the cancer center here in Worthington, those patients can come here or be treated to some extent in their local community.”

Another key component of Sanford Cancer Center is the ability for its doctors to participate in “tumor conferences,” during which doctors from throughout the Sanford system meet via video to discuss cases. Conferences are offered a few times every week.

These are just some of the ways in which SWMC is trying to accommodate the varying health-care needs of individuals around the region.

Daily Globe Managing Editor Ryan McGaughey may be reached at 376-7320.

Ryan McGaughey

I first joined the Daily Globe in April 2001 as sports editor. I later became the news editor in November 2002, and the managing editor in August 2006. I'm originally from New York State, and am married with two children.

(507) 376-7320