Hospital combines diverse services for cancer patients

July 19, 2011

By Laura Geggel

The Swedish Cancer Institute at Swedish/Issaquah is a one-stop shop for all things cancer related.

Patients will find doctors, surgeons, radiation, chemotherapy and magnetic oncology, not to mention naturopathic medicine, stores, social workers, clinical research and a resource library.

The institute is partnering with the American Cancer Society and providing a part-time navigator who can connect patients and families with support groups and other resources. The Be Well and Perfect Fit stores will sell prosthetics, wigs and other items a cancer patient might need.

Though the Swedish Cancer Institute has operated in the Seattle area for almost 80 years, the Swedish/Issaquah location opened July 14 and doctors are now seeing patients.

With three radiation oncologists, three medical oncologists and a nurse practitioner working there full time, the institute is able to treat all types of cancer. Some specialists will be onsite part time, at least for now, helping patients treat disease with state-of-the-art equipment, including linear accelerator radiation therapy, an instrument that shoots hundreds of tiny lasers at a focused point, destroying a malignancy but not the surrounding cells.

Some specialists include physicians for breast, lung, colon and rectal cancers, naturopathic medical doctors and genetic counselors.

Doctor says focus should be on lung cancer screening

One specialist, Ralph Aye, a thoracic surgeon at the institute, cares for patients experiencing cancer in their lungs, chest cavities, esophagus or stomachs.

These days, screening for lung cancer is a hot topic for thoracic surgeons. Aye is one of the doctors at Swedish participating in a clinical study called the International Early Lung Cancer Action Project, or I-ELCAP.

It’s about time lung cancer got more attention, Aye said. It kills 160,000 people per year, claiming more lives than breast, colon and prostate cancer combined, according to the I-ELCAP website. And, it’s significantly less funded in terms of research and support, Aye said.

The statistics are not encouraging. Today, 85 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer in the United State will die within five years, according to the website.

“If you have 100 people diagnosed, five years from now only 15 will be alive,” Aye said.

In conjunction with the study, doctors such as Aye screen at-risk patients yearly for lung cancer using a CT scan.

CT scans are more sensitive than X-rays when it comes to detecting lung cancer, and the screening exposes patients to less radiation than a normal CT scan, he said.

The study is already showing positive results. Instead of 85 percent of people dying within five years, 85 percent of patients involved in the study are surviving.

Aye encouraged at-risk adults to get involved with the study, which targets people ages 40-75 and have a 20-pack year history, meaning they smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 20 years, or they smoked two packs a day for 10 years.

The CT scan does cost $300 and insurance does not cover it unless an abnormality is found, but Aye said he hopes insurance policies, and lung cancer screening policies, will change soon.

“I think we’ll see an increase in pressure to start screening for lung cancer instead of just breast and colon,” he said.

Naturopath enhances treatments

Other specialists, including naturopathic doctor Dan Labriola and his partners at Northwest Natural Health Specialty Care Clinic, will take up residence at the institute at least one day a week.

The naturopaths will work hand in hand with medical physicians, helping patients return to health and manage their diseases.

There are three main ways naturopaths help cancer patients, Labriola said.

First, they try “to get and keep the patient as strong and healthy as possible in every way,” he said.

For example, if chemotherapy patients are experiencing bloating, stomach upset or fatigue, naturopaths can find natural ways to help them feel better, such as suggesting a change in diet or supplements.

Second, naturopaths make sure patients are not doing anything to interfere with their cancer treatment.

“Anything that can act in your body can also interact,” Labriola said.

He co-authored a scientific paper in 1999 about how antioxidant supplements can interfere with certain chemotherapies and most radiation therapy. Also, folic acid can interfere with some chemotherapies, making them stronger or weaker.

“We actually have to modify the way patients take supplements,” Labriola said.

Third, naturopaths can recommend additional herbs and supplements to patients. While those recommendations are not a substitute for cancer treatment, they are another resource for the patient.

“We work seamlessly with the conventional medical staff out there,” Labriola said.

Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or Comment at

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