Reasons for Hope
Advanced technology, a multidisciplinary approach to treatment and the resources of Penn Medicine underscore Chester County Hospital’s reputation as a leader in cancer care
by Bill Donahue

It’s a Wednesday morning at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center at Chester County Hospital, and members of the Breast Cancer Tumor Conference gather for their weekly meeting. Although their backgrounds and expertise vary, these individuals share a common goal: to scrutinize the details of complex cases of women who have been touched by breast cancer and then devise a personalized treatment plan to achieve the best possible outcomes for each patient.

The dedicated group, which includes the directors of key departments and other professionals from nearly every associated medical discipline—radiation oncology, surgical oncology, radiology, genetics, plastic surgery, patient navigation, etc.— is “just one example of our comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to treatment,” according to Andre A. Konski, M.D., medical director of Chester County Hospital’s Department of Radiation Oncology.

“We discuss new breast cases and older breast cases in our Wednesday morning breast conferences,” says Dr. Konski. “We talk about the individual patient, their care and discuss the details of an agreed-upon plan of treatment. This kind of multidisciplinary case discussion really optimizes our approach to treatment. It’s never just one person’s opinion; we’re sharing our expertise across all disciplines to determine what’s best for the patient. Everyone is involved.”

The Tumor Conference is one example of Chester County Hospital’s solemn commitment. It might also help explain why an increasing number of people who receive a cancer diagnosis—breast, lung, prostate, head and neck or another part of the body—are opting to receive treatment at Chester County Hospital’s West Chester campus, or one of its nearby satellite locations.

Chester County Hospital, which became part of the University of Pennsylvania Health System in 2013, is devoted to preserving the overall health and well-being of residents of Chester County and surrounding areas. Chartered in 1892 as a 10-bed dispensary, the hospital has been serving the communities of Chester County and beyond for nearly 125 years. The affiliation with Penn Medicine has built upon the hospital’s efforts to provide multidisciplinary care in an environment intended to deliver favorable clinical outcomes and high patient satisfaction, particularly in cases involving cancer.

“We have a very caring, competent staff here—an outstanding staff,” Dr. Konski says. “From our patient navigators and technicians, who are helping patients through a very trying time, to our nurses, who are highly experienced, the environment here is very caring. I have worked at a lot of places, and the staff here is second to none in terms of the level of care, the ease of access and the patient navigation.”

Aided by technology and treatment techniques that have been adopted by some of the country’s most respected medical centers, the staff at Abramson Cancer Center at Chester County Hospital aims to help each patient maintain a good quality of life while fighting to overcome his or her cancer. This often includes clinical trials of breakthrough therapies that are giving cancer survivors hope and, in many cases, more time.

In radiation oncology, for example, Chester County Hospital provides “a wide range of options for patients opting for more limited forms of treatment,” Dr. Konski says. This includes the Varian TrueBeam™, a versatile technology effective in treating even the most complex tumors. TrueBeam targets each dose of radiation at a very precise area, destroying cancer cells and shrinking the tumor while protecting the surrounding healthy tissue. Also, most TrueBeam treatments take only a few minutes per day, meaning decreased treatment times and limited interruption to a patient’s daily life.

Likewise, the adoption of techniques that consider the overall health of the patient—prone breast radiation and the deep inspiration breath hold, for example—enable effective treatment while minimizing the amount of radiation exposure to the heart, lungs and other vital organs.

Technology has led to similar advances in the detection of cancer, according to Lisa W. Pinheiro, M.D., director of breast imaging at Chester County Hospital.

“In the past 15 years the technology we use to diagnose cancers and treat them has evolved considerably, and Chester County Hospital has embraced many of these breakthroughs,” says Dr. Pinheiro. “I have worked here for all but two years of my career, and the administration here has always understood the importance of providing the tools we need to help patients. That has been true even in times of [national or global] economic crisis, and these technologies are not inexpensive. I feel very fortunate to be where I am.”

She cites the adoption of 3-D mammography, also known as breast tomosynthesis, as a significant step forward. This technological advance has provided more accurate views of a patient’s breast from multiple angles, which is especially important for women with dense breast tissue. The result is increased accuracy, a reduction in the number of return visits for “false positives” and, in the end, greater peace of mind for patients. Most importantly, it has fostered a significant increase in cancer detection rates, according to Dr. Pinheiro.

“The advent of 3-D mammography has changed things so much for the better because it helps you see very subtle tumors you often cannot see with 2-D imaging,” she says. “It is able to take very thin, very high-resolution images—kind of like a CAT scan—so it’s able to find cancers or abnormalities earlier in the process. It has also helped reduce the number of callbacks for false positives by 30 percent.”

Chester County Hospital continues to add new treatment options designed to enhance patient care. This summer, for example, the hospital plans to adopt a biopsy unit that can enable its radiology team to biopsy areas of a woman’s breast that, through 3-D mammography, have been identified as suspicious.

“I am often the person who has to tell a woman she has breast cancer,” Dr. Pinheiro says. “Those are difficult conversations, but I know the care they are going to receive here is exceptional. Our breast care navigators are closely involved in our patients’ lives and provide a level of service that you’re not going to see in very many places. It’s very personalized care—we’re treating the person, not just the tumor.”

The commitment to care has earned Chester County Hospital accolades from more than patients and their families. Since 2010, the Breast Health Program of Chester County Hospital has earned two three-year accreditations from the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC), administered by the American College of Surgeons. Such accreditation is given only to programs that voluntarily commit to providing the highest level of quality for breast care and undergo a rigorous evaluation of their performance.

The affiliation with Penn Medicine has only solidified Chester County Hospital’s reputation as a destination for excellence in cancer care. Physicians suggest the affiliation has created benefits such as an intensive focus on best practices, the addition of several process improvements and enhanced communication through a network-wide system of electronic medical records.

“From their first interaction through follow-up care, we’re doing everything we can to tailor and optimize treatment for each individual,” Dr. Konski says. “What we do here is treat patients and their cancer. Ultimately it’s our goal to one day tell [patients] they are cancer free.”

Chester County Hospital
701 E. Marshall Street
West Chester, PA 19380

Photograph by Ed Cunicelli