This year, Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers celebrates 25 years of providing patients quality, personalized cancer care, and access to leading edge clinical trials, close to home.
Here, one of RMCC’s founding physicians, Nick DiBella, MD, a specialist in hematology and oncology, looks back at a quarter century of care, and ahead to the future of cancer treatment.
Question: What was the motivation behind starting Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers?
Dr. DiBella: Our original group was called Hematology-Oncology Associates (HOA). There were six of us and we were all trained in hematology and oncology. We felt we could provide better service if we practiced together. We wanted to form a network of people within a single specialty. We believed that would improve patient care and improve efficiencies, as well as being a way to cope with managed care.
Q: What were some of the early innovations that set Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers apart?
A: HOA was one of the first practices in the area to give chemotherapy treatments in an outpatient setting, and we continued pioneering that when we became Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers. In the past, the patient had to be hospitalized to receive intravenous chemotherapy. But making it available as an outpatient treatment was better for the patient, and it saved costs. Also, in that setting, the patient was more likely to see the same nurse each time, who would get to know the patient, and make the care more personalized.
Q: What are some of the strengths that have made Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers successful?
A: One of our biggest strengths is a dedicated team of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and social workers with a focus on cancer care. They get to know the patient and really have expertise in their field. Another is that we can offer care close to home, that’s why we have 19 sites across the Front Range. That is so patients can get treatment close to home.
Q: What are some of the biggest changes or advances in cancer treatment over the past 25 years?
A: We now have many targeted therapies that are more effective and less toxic.
It’s very gratifying to look at the data from the American Cancer Society showing the number of patients surviving cancer has increased dramatically, especially colon and breast cancer. Malignant melanoma is another example — people are living now with metastatic disease for quite a long time. And we’ve been able to offer improved treatments for many cancers of the blood.
Q: As you look back at the past 25 years, what accomplishments are you most proud of?
A: I’m most proud of the fact that patients get great care at our clinics, and that we have contributed a great deal to cancer research by registering thousands of patients in clinical trials and helping develop more than 50 new drugs for treatment of cancer. No advances in oncology occur without clinical trials. You have to prove a new drug is better than an old drug, and you have to do that through clinical trials. So, we’re grateful to our patients and to our physicians. We’ve tried to recruit physicians who have a hunger for knowledge and a desire to improve outcomes for patients.
Q: What advances and challenges do you see in the future of cancer treatment?
A: One of the biggest challenges remains helping people find a way to afford treatment.
But in the future, I think the kind of drugs we use may start to change as new technology emerges. The CRISPR [Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats] technology, where they are editing genes and making precise changes to improve the genes’ ability to attack cancer, that’s very exciting. I think we’re on the verge of major advances there.