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In Boise, Saint Alphonsus is ramping up their cancer care with exciting new hires and upgrades to their oncology centers to treat Treasure Valley residents more effectively. The ongoing partnership with Oregon Health & Science University and team approach to each cancer patient and their treatments mean that the disease is far more manageable and curable than even five years ago. And based on what newcomer board-certified surgical oncologist Dr. Leah Stockton and her peer, surgeon Dr. Chris Reising say, every day brings new clinical results and promising treatments that mitigate a patient’s battle with cancer.

Dr. Leah Stockton said: “The increase in the number of options that are available to patients nowadays in terms of chemotherapy or immunotherapy treatments[include] more systemic treatments, as opposed to surgery — it’s difficult to keep on track of them—basically because of how rapidly they’re coming out. So I do think that as things progress in the future and more and more tumors are being molecularly profiled, that it will be a more individualized approach in terms of the treatment for these cancers.”

“Our goal is to be the lead in minimally invasive and robotic cancer surgery and as a multidisciplinary cancer team for our community and patients in the Treasure Valley,” said Dr. Reising, who added that their collective goal at Saint Alphonsus was to develop a world-class cancer center right here in Treasure Valley. “The teams that we are recruiting and building are from those areas [with established cancer care centers], Dr. Leah Stockton’s from Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. We’ve recruited from Johns Hopkins and added to our team with Dr. Dan Prior. We’ve got cardiothoracic and thoracic oncology surgeon Dr. Ben Taylor. He is first in the state doing robotic lung resections and has deep experience in that now. So all like-minded people all focused on building excellence in minimally invasive surgery and surgical outcomes for patients all tied to a multidisciplinary team of medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and even our affiliation with Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), increasing access for our patients to clinical trials and immunotherapies and other recent advancements in cancer.”

It takes a concerted team effort to build a thriving cancer center and both Drs. Reising and Stockton shared their vision of service, care, and advanced trials coming together under the Saint Alphonsus team leadership. Both physicians agreed that the integrated, multidisciplinary work of the entire team, from nurse navigators to radiologists to the surgeons and oncologists, will achieve a world-class status for the quality of care.

Not just for the Treasure Valley, but it will also be a force in the Pacific Northwest. And the quality of life in Boise is a huge draw and attractive to other doctors who visit and tour Saint Alphonsus’ facilities.

“[The Boise area is] easy to recruit to, and when leadership from Saint Alphonsus recruited me, it was to help them develop an advanced surgical cancer team that’s focused on minimally invasive and robotic surgery,” said Dr. Reising, “but also being able to draw from the wide geography where our patients are, extending all the way to Eastern Oregon and Northern Idaho and Northern Utah. That’s where previously many of these patients have been, by necessity, sent out to larger academic centers like OHSU, Seattle, and Utah. So that’s exactly what we’ve done in the last three years and are continuing to do. And now, with the addition of Dr. Leah Stockton, the very first fellowship trained surgical oncologist in Idaho, Saint Alphonsus is broadening our scope and increasing the ability to keep these patients local.”

When discussing Saint Alphonsus’ cancer surgery capabilities and forecast, Dr. Reising noted that they were drawing board-certified doctors also sub-specialized in specific areas. “We’ll continue to enhance that,” he said. “You asked about forecasting. So while that’s our end goal, we have a timeline for recruitment in the areas of minimally invasive and robotic surgery and surgical oncology, specifically. So we’ll be adding more providers as we grow and dominate that space in the Treasure Valley.”

How different is the Saint Alphonsus Cancer Institute’s team approach? “It is very similar to the institution where I did my fellowship, which is a nationally recognized cancer institute, said Dr. Stockton. “At Saint Alphonsus, we have multidisciplinary team meetings where we discuss all cancer cases. So we get the radiologists, the medical oncologists, the surgeons, the pathologists, and everybody in the same room, or at least on the same Webex meeting. And we go through patient files, discuss everything, and develop a consensus for a plan of care with each patient moving forward. So that way, things are not getting lost in translation, versus just forwarding your clinical note.”

Both surgeons agreed that for everyone, early screenings are critical in annual checkups. Saint Alphonsus has numerous outreach programs and heavily promotes early cancer screenings as the first best line of defense against a cancer diagnosis. But in some organs there are no baseline screenings, so paying attention to any unusual pain or changes is critical.

“Unfortunately for pancreatic cancer, there was no great screening, it’s too rare of an entity for routine screening, yet we know it is associated 100% with smoking,” said Dr. Stockton. “So everyone needs to stop smoking. There’s some association with obesity as well. So really, just by living a healthy lifestyle, it is so important when it comes to your liver, early screening for colon cancer is important, and one of the most common places that colon cancer will spread to is the liver. A lot of the liver surgery that I end up doing is resections for colon cancer which has spread. We’re seeing colon cancer appear in younger patients, and it’s aggressive colon cancer. This trend is very concerning. But everyone needs to get their [baseline] colonoscopy at age 45. And if they have a family history, or are having symptoms or if they’re anemic, they need to be screened sooner because of that.”

There’s excellent news on the horizon, and Dr. Reising noted that the doctors coming to Saint Alphonsus are taken with the Treasure Valley area, citing the kindness of the people and the ease of living.

“It’s an easy sell, as here in Boise and the Treasure Valley, there are kind people, and our population is very sincere,” Dr. Reising said. “I’m from the Midwest, and I find them even nicer, and it’s such a joy to live here. You go into the facility, and you feel a palpable mission. The nursing is outstanding. I’ve been very happy making that transition and we have had no problems recruiting excellent providers from across the country here.”

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