Community-based care makes cancer treatment easier on patients and families.

A cancer diagnosis used to lead to prolonged stays at the hospital. Not anymore. Cancer screenings, early detection, technological advances and lifestyle changes have resulted in a surge in cancer survival rates. At the same time, hospital stays are now less frequent, thanks to an increase in community-based cancer care.

More than 80 percent of all cancer treatments, including radiation and chemotherapy infusion, is now delivered at the community level in an outpatient setting. Even the most sophisticated treatments, like proton therapy, are becoming more accessible. This trend has given rise to a new model for the delivery of cancer care. To meet the needs of their patients, more community-based clinics are providing advanced, comprehensive cancer treatment previously offered only in the biggest metropolitan areas or large academic-affiliated institutions.

This year, more than 110,000 Texans are expected to be diagnosed with cancer – and many of them will have the option to receive treatment right where they live and work. My own practice, Texas Oncology, is a pioneer in community-based cancer care with more than 100 sites of service throughout the state, enabling patients to receive industry-leading treatment without leaving home and the critical support of family and friends.

Local cancer clinics are especially important for radiation patients, who often have daily treatments for consecutive weeks at a time. The cost and stress of travel previously associated with cancer care were additional heavy burdens for patients and their families. It’s common for community-based cancer centers to also provide diagnostics, laboratory facilities and pharmacies to make the entire treatment process more convenient for patients.

For cancer patients, the benefits of community-based services are amplified due to intense cancer treatment regimens that take significant time and energy. Among the many advantages are:

Staying close to the support of family, friends and loved ones – and in some cases, work

Removing the feeling of isolation of being away from home

Eliminating the strenuous burden of traveling for frequent appointments to distant treatment facilities to receive quality care

Providing access to some of the most promising clinical trials in the country

There is an impression that clinical trials are only available at large academic institutions. In fact, clinical trials are conducted at both large academic institutions and community-based cancer centers. Patients of Texas Oncology take part in some of the most promising clinical trials in the nation for a broad range of cancers through its affiliation with the US Oncology Research network.

Of course, there are times when cancer patients still need to be admitted to the hospital – either for surgery, specialized treatment or a complex medical condition. Fortunately, these instances are increasingly the exception, as most cancer treatments can successfully be completed outside of the hospital.

Choosing the right physician and treatment options are top priorities for all patients who are in the fight of their lives. When patients weigh an oncology team’s experience and quality of care as they make their decision about where to receive treatment, they should also take into consideration that they are developing a long-term relationship with this team. After treatment is completed, patients will return to their oncologist for periodic check-ups and annual visits. Choosing an oncologist in their own community can greatly increase the convenience and ease of care for patients in the long-term.

 By Guillermo Lazo,  M.D.