October 23, 2021

CRMC explores cancer services

Radiation oncology treatment already established in Cortland

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Dr. Michael Fallon talks with one of his patients Friday at Radiation Oncology Services in Cortland.

When Truxton resident James Greggains discovered he had prostate cancer he was given two options for treatment: drive an hour back and forth to Syracuse everyday or see a specialist in Cortland.

He chose Cortland. The more convenient route, he said.

The Cortland Regional Medical Center has submitted an application to the state to further explore the possibility of adding integrated cancer treatment services in the county.

“As Cortland Regional Medical Center has examined the health care needs of our community, the added benefit of integrated cancer services has been identified as a priority,” according to a written statement from the medical center.

Types of integrated cancer services can include:
• Chemotherapy.
• Genomic testing.
• Hormone therapy.
• Immunotherapy.
• Radiation therapy.
• Surgical oncology.

In terms of full-time services not provided by the hospital, yet, radiation therapy is already provided in the county by Radiation Oncology Services in Cortlandville with Dr. Michael Fallon.

“It’s an important need, but not a strong need,” he said. His practice typically sees about 90 patients a year. Other radiation oncology centers in more populated areas, see about 200 to 250 a year, he said.

The medical center is still in the exploration phase of what the integrated services would look like for Cortland County, said Molly Lane, marketing communications manager for the Cortland hospital. The medical center’s application has been received by the state Health Department, but has yet to be reviewed.

In April 2017, medical center President Mark Webster said an integrated cancer center, similar to what exists at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, would benefit the Cortland County community. However, a center could cost about $7 million, which was one of the reasons the medical center looked to affiliate with another entity.

An affiliation between the hospital and Sayre, Pennsylvania- based Guthrie Medical Group became official in October. As part of the affiliation, Guthrie announced it would invest $100 million into the medical center over a five-year period. It was not mentioned whether a cancer center would be a part of that.

In 2016, the medical center announced a $13 million plan to build a cancer treatment center and a medical office building on Homer Avenue. Part of the plan was the treatment center would house a $6 million machine used for radiation therapy.

However, Lane said in a written statement the hospital’s current certificate of need — for the services — reflects today’s climate in the county and “should not be compared to previous discussions.”

There are several cancer centers within an hour’s drive from Cortland in Syracuse, Binghamton and Ithaca.

Those three cities provide radiation oncology as part of their cancer centers, too.

If the Cortland Regional Medical Center were to provide its own radiation therapy services, Fallon said it could eliminate his practice.

“That doesn’t mean I’m going to leave,” he said.

Behind 3-foot to 7-foot wide walls and a 13,000-pound door to stop radiation from escaping, Fallon has a special X-ray machine that focuses in on a defined area of a person’s body to give a precise dose of radiation to the site where cancer was found.

“It’s meant to kill cancer cells,” Fallon said. It’s also the only machine like it in Cortland County.

Treatments happen five days a week, for about five to six weeks.

When Greggains found he had cancer cells on his prostate, he thought about seeing Fallon, and his doctor at the Cortland Regional Medical Center encouraged him to do so.

After about 45 days of radiation treatment, Greggains said, the cancer cells on his prostate have about disappeared.

“It seemed to have done the job,” he said.