2014-06-27 / Front Page

Cancer center changes name

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer


Chuck Elliot, left, talks with lead nurse Jenny Jamison during a chemotherapy treatment Tuesday, June 24. Elliot, a resident of South Portland, has been coming to New England Cancer Specialists for six months to treat his liver cancer. (Michael Kelley photo) Chuck Elliot, left, talks with lead nurse Jenny Jamison during a chemotherapy treatment Tuesday, June 24. Elliot, a resident of South Portland, has been coming to New England Cancer Specialists for six months to treat his liver cancer. (Michael Kelley photo) SCARBOROUGH – Maine Center for Cancer Medicine has provided cancer care for patients for nearly 40 years. Recently the practice, located at 100 Campus Drive, Suite 108, changed its name to New England Cancer Specialists to better reflect the nature of the work done there.

“We treat patients from throughout New England and we consult on cases across the country, so we thought it’s time that our name better reflected our reach and reputation,” Dr. Tracey Weisberg, managing partner and president of New England Cancer Specialists, said in a release announcing the name change.

New England Cancer Specialists was started in 1978 as a place where cancer patients in Maine could receive cancer treatment, namely intravenous chemotherapy. Over the last 36 years, New England Cancer Specialists has expanded and opened cancer centers in Biddeford, Brunswick and Sanford, as well as clinics in Norway, Damariscotta, Belfast and North Conway, New Hampshire. Earlier this spring, the practice officially became affiliated with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts.


Pharmacy technicians Maria Ciccarelli, left, and Vicky Striligas prepare medicine at New England Cancer Specialist earlier this week. The dispensary helps patients make sure they are taking the right oral chemotherapy dose at the right time. (Michael Kelley photo) Pharmacy technicians Maria Ciccarelli, left, and Vicky Striligas prepare medicine at New England Cancer Specialist earlier this week. The dispensary helps patients make sure they are taking the right oral chemotherapy dose at the right time. (Michael Kelley photo) Although it has close ties to Maine Medical Center, Midcoast Hospital and Southern Maine Health Care, as well as leading cancer centers across the country, New England Cancer Specialists has remained independent and physician-owned.

In the late 1970s, Weisberg said it was common for outpatient cancer care to be done at physician-owned practices. Over time, she said, more and more practices were bought by hospitals or hospital groups.

“We feel, as do many other private practices, there are real benefits to being a physician-owned practice,” said Weisberg, one of 13 cancer specialists on staff.

One benefit of being private and independent, Weinberg said, is New England Cancer Specialists can work with any hospital and accept referrals by any physician in the state and around New England.

All New England Cancer Specialists’ offices are open to 7 p.m. and on the weekends to provide patient care outside of the traditional workday. This, Weinberg said, helps to avoid patients having to go to the emergency room or be admitted to a hospital in a cancer care emergency.

Betsy Chase, director of the research department, said on a busy day, the Scarborough office can see upwards of 170 patients a day and provides treatment for 60 of them.

Chuck Elliot of South Portland is one such patient. Elliot has been coming to New England Cancer Specialists for six months, ever since he was diagnosed with liver cancer in late 2013.

A decade ago, Elliot said, he was diagnosed with hepatitis C, an infectious disease of the liver, but through treatment was able to “clear the virus.” Since then as a precaution, doctors have regularly watched for tumors on Elliot’s liver. In November, Elliot discovered he had a tumor on his liver. He went to the Leahy Hospital & Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, for a possible liver transplant, but doctors decided it would be better to remove a section of his liver. He underwent surgery in December, but by mid-January, the cancer re-emerged and he began treatment at New England Cancer Specialists.

Elliot receives treatment every other week at the facility and visits his primary care physician every month.

“With something this complex, it is absolutely essential, because people can miss something, to have that double check in place,” he said while undergoing treatment Tuesday, June 24. “The staff is absolutely wonderful.”

Intravenous treatment is but one of the ways New England Cancer Specialists treat cancer. Oral chemotherapy pills are also a part of the overall cancer care effort. The facility has a dispensary on site to give out necessary medication and help patients manage dosage plans.

Weisberg said New England Cancer Specialists are piloting an oral chemotherapy pillbox that alerts a patient’s mobile device when he or she misses a dose. Weinberg said the pillbox can also alert the dispensary and a loved one’s mobile device.

“This way we will be able to monitor their adherence and make sure they are getting the right dose and the right time,” Weisberg said.

“Most cancer patients take a lot of chemotherapy medicine and it can be very complicated for them to juggle their doses. If we can provide the medication for them, we can also counsel them on what to take and when to take it, because if you don’t take your chemo medicine it is not going to work in the right way,” said Chase, who oversees a staff of seven researchers and has 30 studies going at a time on a variety of diseases.

Aside from a busy research department, New England Cancer Specialists is also an active testing facility. Chase said New England Cancer Specialists conduct 95 percent of necessary testing on site. Many times, the results of the tests can be completed even before the patient has seen the doctor.

Karen Duncan, a lab technician, said the lab can do a complete blood count in five minutes and have results of electrolyte, calcium, liver function and kidney function testing to the treatment room within 20 or 30 minutes.

This expediency, Chase said, is important in cancer care because often a patient cannot receive his or her chemotherapy treatment if “the blood work is off.”

Weisberg said providing cancer treatment is only one of the focuses of New England Cancer Specialists. The staff is also dedicated to providing follow-ups with patients after they have finished chemotherapy.

“That’s a big focus,” Weisberg said. “It wasn’t recognized as an important concept in cancer treatment 36 years ago.”

Weisberg said another important part of cancer care offered by New England Cancer Specialists is palliative care, an approach that aims to reduce the mental and physical strain caused by a terminal cancer diagnosis.

“Palliative care has been identified as a major, major part of cancer care and we have three physicians on staff that focus on that,” Weinberg said.

Weinberg said although the name has changed, the staff’s commitment to treatment, survivorship, palliative care, testing and research has not.

“The mission hasn’t changed, just the name,” Weisberg said. “Everything Maine Center for Cancer Medicine was, New England Cancer Specialists is.”

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