Cancer care programs are gaining visibility at New Jersey hospitals, affording patients choices closer to home — and potentially reversing the tide of patients leaving the state for cancer care.
Both Hackensack University Medical Center and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital were ranked among the top 50 cancer care programs in the country by U.S. News & World Report this week.
Hackensack is seeking designation as a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute, while RWJUH in New Brunswick is the flagship hospital of the state’s only such center — the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.
David Fernandez, vice president of the cancer hospital, perioperative services and neuroscience center at RWJUH, said he hopes more people learn about what his hospital and the state have to offer.
“We are definitely the dominant player within Central Jersey but we are also a program that has achieved national excellence for cancer research and clinical medicine,” he said.
And while RWJUH sees more than 5,000 patients a year, Fernandez believes its strong performance in cancer care and research is not as well known throughout New Jersey as it should be.
As the flagship hospital of the Rutgers CINJ, RWJUH brings advances in research and clinical care directly to patients: “It really helps us to establish the highest in clinical medicine.”
But, Fernandez said, “I think we are kind of an unknown jewel within the state of New Jersey.”
He added that RWJUH offers “a depth and breadth in terms of research and clinical care” that residents of New Jersey “sometimes overlook, and they might look across the river to New York or Philadelphia, when right here in the center of New Jersey you have one of the best comprehensive cancer programs in the country. That is something we should toot our horns about in New Jersey, and something we should recognize.”
Dr. Andre Goy is chairman of the John Theurer Cancer Center, which he said has 850 employees and saw 7,000 new patients last year. Hackensack has the scope to support large-scale research and clinical programs: for example, it did 385 bone marrow transplants last year.
Goy agreed that New Jersey hospitals are bolstering their image, saying they “historically were squeezed between the New York and Philadelphia metropolitan areas. But now there are clearly emerging (cancer) centers in New Jersey.”
In addition to seeking NCI designation, Hackensack’s Theurer center is engaged in a major research partnership with an NCI center: the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington, D.C.
Goy said Hackensack achieved a national reputation for cancer care by “pushing for innovation and access to novel therapies to push the envelope for patients “
He said he is proud that Hackensack has differentiated itself as a top-ranked cancer hospital. But he said cancer programs flourish by working with each other: “We need to collaborate because medicine is changing so fast and we need to push the engine of discovery.”
Goy said, “I am totally convinced that medicine is going to change more in the next two or three decades than in the past 100 years — no question about it.”
Cooper University Health Care in Camden also has established a partnership, with the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. MD Anderson was ranked second in the nation by U.S. News, after Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
Cooper said: “MD Anderson’s superb rating is possible because of the dedication and passion that our colleagues in Houston bring to cancer patients each and every day. Cooper is honored to partner with them to bring remarkable cancer care to patients in our region.”
Cancer care is provided by a number of hospitals across New Jersey, noted David Knowlton, chief executive of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute: "New Jerseyans are very parochial, and they want their own thing in their own area. Cancer care is profitable and so a lot of (hospitals) are in it."
Knowlton said cancer care "should be a regional service, in my view. We should be putting resources into getting expertise from regional centers. It is probably better to get state of the art cancer care in regional centers and then sending people back to their community hospital to carry out their treatment plan."
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