Georgetown University's Vincent T. Lombardi Cancer Research Center, destined to be the area's major public research and treatment facility for cancer patients, officially opened its doors this weekend, some 15 years after its conception.

The Lombardi Center, along with Howard University's Cancer Research Center, has been designated one of 20 comprehensive cancer centers by the National Cancer Institute. The Lombardi Center's four floors, built at a cost of $11.5 million, contain space for outpatient treatment, 15 research laboratories and administrative space.

According to Dr. John Potter, director of the center, one of the principal advantages of the new facility is that cancer specialists treating patients will be working close to each other, permitting them to consult each other easily.

The center on Reservoir Road NW has about 150 staff members, including 80 full- and part-time professionals doing research. In addition to providing a full range of care for the sick, the center will provide free home care for terminal cancer patients. The home care includes medical, nursing and social care and drugs.

Patients who are referred to the center by their physicians can receive treatment, or can be given a free diagnosis and treatment plan to be administered by their physicians. In addition, Potter said, patients confused by conflicting diagnoses or advice can go to the center for a free consultation. The cost of treatment for patients, Potter said, is comparable to what patients can expect to pay in any other institution.

About 5,000 patients are now being treated at the Lombardi Center, including 1,300 new patients every year. The center's total annual budget is $10 million, including $4.2 million for research. The center is designed to handle 20,000 outpatient visits a year.

Among the research being done are experiments to reduce the toxic effects of drugs used in chemotherapy, experimentation with heroin as a pain-killer in terminal patients, investigation of a vaccine against cervical cancer and studies to determine how cancer cells become resistant to treatment.

A breast-screening program at the center for women uses a variety of technological devices to detect signs of cancer. In addition, the center is developing surgical techniques, combined with radiation therapy, to eliminate breast malignancies with as little loss of tissue as possible.

The center is named for the former coach of the Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins football teams, who died of cancer at Georgetown University Hospital in September 1970.