The National Cancer Institute is planning a new program to make the latest cancer research and treatment available as fast as possible to patients in community cancer centers across the country.
"This effort will dramaticallly increase citizens' access to excellence in cancer care," said Dr. Edward L. Moorhead II, a Grand Rapids, Mich., physician speaking on behalf of local cancer specialists who have been working with the government in developing the new proposal.
The $10-million-a-year program is expected to involve 100 to 200 community cancer centers, which will work in partnership with larger NCI treatment projects, Moorhead told an American Cancer Society science writers' seminar here.
Dr. Vincent T. DeVita Jr., NCI director, said the program responds to a widespread desire of cancer patients to be treated close to home during their long illness, as well as the increasing availability of cancer experts in local communities.
It is the "first effort to add community physicians to the cancer treatment effort on a wide scale," said NCI spokesman Paul Van Nevel. NCI officials also are planning a new national computer data base which will provide both doctors and patients--those with home computers--with up-to-date information on research on various forms of cancer.
Moorhead, executive director of the Grand Rapids Clinical Oncology Program and an official with the Association for Community Cancer Centers, said that more than 80 percent of all cancer patients obtain their care in community hospitals.
He noted that a 1978 amendment to the National Cancer Act specifically ordered the federal research institute to "concern itself with how quickly advances in cancer research are made widely available in the community."
But Moorhead emphasized that the benefits will go both ways. In addition to reducing the "lag time," the federal research effort will also gain more information about various treatments on a larger number of patients.
He said that many community doctors already treat their patients on "protocols," or standardized drug treatments under study by research groups, but because they are not part of an organized program the results are not reported.
For example, 18,000 women a year develop cancer of the ovary. Several different treatment programs are available, yet "no one is sure" which approach is best, Moorhead said. At present, the treatment results of fewer than 1,000 of these women are reported to NCI.
He said that only about 10 percent of all patients in the community will actually enter research "protocols," but it is expected that the "close working relationship established between the community cancer specialist and cancer center" will help the other 90 percent of cancer patients in the community.
Government officials said the details are still being worked out, but an official request for proposals will be made in the next few months. Hospitals and clinics with cancer programs will be eligible, they said, and smaller hospitals may be encouraged to join together in consortiums.
In the Washington area, hospitals would work with the Howard-Georgetown Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of 20 around the country, or with other NCI-supported programs.
Rose Kushner, a Rockville, Md., woman who started the Breast Cancer Advisory Center and serves as a consumer member of the National Cancer Advisory Board, said the plan, "if done properly," has the potential for being the "greatest thing that's ever come down the pike for cancer patients."