The best machine available ...

With the help of an expensive new tool, Olympic Medical Center soon will greatly expand its ability to provide "world-class cancer care" on the peninsula.

The OMC board this week approved the purchase of a TrueBeam linear accelerator, manufactured by Varian Medical Systems. Once installed, it will provide patients of the Olympic Medical Cancer Center in Sequim with a number of important new options for cancer treatment.

In making her pitch to the board, Rhonda Curry, assistant administrator of the strategic development department, said, "This new technology will replace our eight-year-old linear accelerator with the newest generation of radiotherapy technology. That will better enable us to treat cancer more precisely, to treat cancers we are currently sending out of the area, and will move us to the level of world-class cancer centers around our country."

Paying for the improvement

The new machine comes with a hefty price tag: $2.7 million, plus tax. Another $500,000 will be spent providing "seamless service" during the installation of the new machine. Extended warranty costs for the first 12 months are included in the purchase price but will then cost $225,000 per year for years two through five.

Add it all up, and the tab comes to more than $4.1 million.

Board member John Nutter, who is a former finance director for the center, called the purchase "probably our biggest single capital expenditure in many years." He said the expenditure is well-justified, noting, "Our cancer center has been our single best (revenue) contributor - this is how we survive in years to come."

Medical care enhanced

Dr. Rena Zimmerman, OMCC radiation oncologist and medical director of radiation oncology, is excited about the new machine's superior capabilities. "One of the reasons I moved here is we have an outstanding cancer center. The machine for the last eight years has been good, but we need to do more. This is the best equipment for our needs."

The new linear accelerator will greatly enhance the ability of staff oncologists to perform stereotactic radio surgery, in which a high dose of radiation is delivered to a finely defined area. For example, the focused radiation beams can be delivered to a specific area of the brain to treat abnormalities, tumors or functional disorders. "We won't be radiating the whole head," Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman also had good words for the new machine's capabilities to treat lung cancers.

"We usually bring them to surgery, but if (the patients) have other difficulties - like breathing - we can do it just as well with this. This will replace some of the thoracic surgery."

Treat and re-treat

Zimmerman also noted the ability to do re-treatments with the new equipment, "even areas near sites that were formerly treated."

With the TrueBeam technology, doctors can focus the radiation on the one small area that needs treatment. That means the lifetime dosage to any particular area can be reduced. "We'll have better cure rates with lesser side effects," Zimmerman said. "It's a sea change."

Zimmerman also described another important benefit to patients. The current machine requires patients to be strapped down motionless for 45 minutes.

"We can reduce this by 75 percent. This is like going from a 35-millimeter camera with film to going to a 35-millimeter digital. We looked at everything on the market. This is the best machine available," Zimmerman said.

Going regional

Zimmerman said with the new technology, OMCC "will become a magnet" for cancer treatment. "There are no TrueBeam sites in the Pacific Northwest," she noted. With the new linear accelerator, two new oncologists on staff and with the completion of the cancer center in Sequim, "we're in a good position to start extending care regionally," Zimmerman said.

Reach Mark Couhig at

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