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Choosing the right cancer treatment center

By Christina L. Mershell

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choosing the right cancer treatment

Accreditation, Experience and Comprehensive Cancer Care

When faced with a cancer diagnosis, finding cancer care that is the best becomes a top-priority for individuals and their loved ones. Choosing a cancer treatment center that is exceptional can be challenging. This guide aims to illuminate key considerations on where to get cancer treatment, emphasizing the significance of accreditation, experience and comprehensive care in decision-making.

Learn more about proton beam therapy and how it works here.

Benefits of Accreditation and Experience: Opting for an accredited and experienced cancer center comes with many advantages. Accreditation demonstrates that the center adheres to rigorous standards, ensuring the delivery of high-quality patient care. Top cancer centers often boast specialized oncologists and cutting-edge technologies, enhancing diagnostic precision and treatment effectiveness. Furthermore, these centers provide access to clinical trials, comprehensive support services and a multidisciplinary approach—factors significantly contributing to improved patient outcomes. Seeking care at accredited cancer treatment centers ensures patients receive the expertise and resources from the best healthcare professionals and is essential for an effective and supportive cancer treatment journey.

  1. Accreditation Types:
    • National Cancer Institute (NCI) Designation: This prestigious designation is awarded to cancer centers that meet rigorous criteria, emphasizing excellence in patient care, research, and community outreach. NCI-designated centers are recognized for their commitment to advancing scientific knowledge and translating research discoveries into improved cancer treatment.
    • American College of Radiology (ACR) Accreditation: ACR accreditation signifies adherence to high standards in radiation oncology. For cancer treatment centers, this accreditation ensures that radiological services meet quality and safety guidelines and that treatment planning is effective.
    • Commission on Cancer (CoC) or Cancer Centers of Excellence Awards: These designations highlight a cancer center's dedication to comprehensive, patient-centered care. The CoC accreditation, for example, involves a thorough evaluation of a center's commitment to providing high-quality care, multidisciplinary collaboration and continuous quality improvement.
    • Impact on Funding and Research: Achieving these accreditations is not merely symbolic; it opens doors to focused funding opportunities, like research grants. This funding supports additional research initiatives and helps attract the best healthcare professionals, ensuring that the cancer treatment center remains at the forefront of advancements in cancer care and treatment options.
  2. Staff Experience:
    • Highly Specialized Medical Team: The expertise of the healthcare professionals in a cancer center is crucial. Specialized oncologists, surgeons, nurses and support staff who focus on specific types of cancer bring a depth of knowledge and experience that contributes to developing personalized treatment plans so you can make the best treatment decisions for your cancer care. 
    • Effect on Patient Outcomes: Research studies consistently show that patients treated at high-volume centers often associated with prestigious accreditations, experience better outcomes. For example, studies on head and neck cancers and brain surgery reveal improved treatment results, fewer complications, shorter hospital stays, and better health outcomes in high-volume centers than in low volume ones.1,2
    • Attraction of Experienced Professionals: Accreditation, especially prestigious ones like the NCI designation, attract high performing dedicated physicians and researchers. The center's reputation as a cancer care leader encourages experienced professionals to join the team, further enhancing the quality of care.
  3. Clinical Research:
    • Active Participation in Clinical Trials: Leading cancer treatment centers actively contribute to clinical research, participating in trials that explore new therapies and treatment options. This involvement means that patients have access to high quality cancer treatment that may not be available in other places. 
    • Integration into Patient Care: Integrating research into patient care ensures that the latest evidence-based practices are applied. This contributes to continuous improvement in treatment protocols, leading to better outcomes and increased patient survival rates.
    • Role of Accreditations in Research Funding: Accreditations, especially with organizations like the NCI, provide cancer centers with the funding needed to carry out critical research. This financial support is instrumental in advancing scientific knowledge and improving cancer care.
  4. Advanced Technology:
    • Integral Role of Technology: State-of-the-art technology is crucial for effective cancer diagnosis and treatment. Accredited cancer centers invest in advanced imaging, radiation therapy and surgical technologies to provide precise and targeted interventions.
    • Example of Technological Advancement: The UF Health Proton Therapy Institute's $44 million renovation and introduction of pencil beam scanning showcase a commitment to staying at the forefront of technological advancements. Pencil beam scanning is a more precise way of delivering proton beam radiation therapy, benefiting patients by minimizing side effects and improving overall treatment efficacy.
    • Increasing Access to Cancer Care: The expansion of new technology improves treatment precision and increases the capacity of cancer centers to treat more patients. This expansion contributes to broader access to advanced cancer care.
  5. Support Services:
    • Comprehensive Cancer Care: Beyond medical treatments, comprehensive cancer care includes emotional and practical support. Cancer centers offering a range of support services, such as counseling, support groups, social workers and survivorship programs, address the holistic needs of patients. This holistic approach often leads to a better quality of life as well. 
    • Contribution to Well-being: These support services contribute significantly to patients' overall well-being. Emotional and practical support helps patients, and their families navigate the challenges of cancer treatment, fostering a more positive and resilient mindset, which attributes to a better quality of life post-cancer treatment. 
    • Role in Quality of Life: A comprehensive approach to cancer care, including robust support services, improves treatment outcomes and enhances the quality of life for individuals facing a cancer diagnosis. It recognizes that the journey involves both medical aspects and emotional and practical challenges.

In summary, each key aspect—accreditation, staff experience, clinical research, advanced technology and support services—plays a critical role in shaping the overall quality of care provided by cancer treatment centers. These elements go hand in hand and contribute to the goal of offering the best possible outcomes and support for individuals facing a cancer diagnosis.

In 2023, the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute, a partner of The University of Florida Health Cancer Center, received the National Cancer Institute, or NCI designation. It is the 72nd NCI-designated cancer center in the United States and the only one in North Central Florida. The center will receive $2.1 million annually from the NCI to enhance its ability to attract more world-class researchers and clinical investigators and train the next generation of the cancer research workforce, while increasing its competitiveness for cancer research grants.
 

1 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30175512/ - Naghavi AO, Echevarria MI, Strom TJ, et al. Patient choice for high-volume center radiation impacts head and neck cancer outcome. Cancer Med. 2018;7(10):4964-4979. doi:10.1002/cam4.1756

2 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1878875024000421 - Sima Vazquez, Jose F. Dominguez, Eva Wu, Eris Spirollari, Sauson Soldozy, Michael Ivan, Martin Merenzon, Simon J. Hanft, Ricardo J. Komotar, High Volume Centers Provide Superior Value of Care in the Surgical Treatment of Malignant Brain Tumor, World Neurosurgery, 2024, ISSN 1878-8750, 
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wneu.2024.01.030

About the Author

Christina L. Mershell is a patient educator at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute. She provides patient orientations, builds referral relationships, and increases public awareness about proton radiation therapy for cancer treatment through community events and presentations. 

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