Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre

World-class cancer treatment

Once underserved, cancer patients in the Ottawa region now have considerably more access to the treatment, privacy and technology they need. This April, the Ottawa Hospital celebrated the second opening of two cancer centre expansions—the first, at the general campus, and the second, at the Queensway-Carleton Hospital (QCH).

In addition to creating nearly 250 jobs, the expansions feature a cancer research lab, four clinics, 83 chemotherapy chairs, 11 radiation machines and a standby machine. In total, the Ottawa Hospital will be able to treat about 1,300 more patients every year.

Paula Doering, vice president for cancer at the Ottawa Hospital, says the expansion was necessary for an influx in patients. “We had some of the longest waiting lists in the province for patients to be seen by the specialist and for those who needed chemotherapy and radiation therapy. We didn’t have the capacity or technology to treat the patients.” Aside from lack of space, the Ottawa Hospital’s general campus also represented quite a trip for those living in the west end, especially the Ottawa Valley. The new QCH cancer centre is a lot more convenient.  

Because there are several forms of cancer, Ottawa Hospital has decided to treat high-volume types—such as breast, prostate and colon cancers—at both campuses, but will treat rarer forms at the general campus, we see all types of cancer. Lung cancer, for example, isn’t as common and the specialists and specialised equipment are in one place.

Open for only three months, both cancer centres are full. “We’re already at capacity,” says Doering. “On one hand, we have to factor in those on the waiting list who are now being treated. But we also have to think about future needs. The ministry gave us 75 per cent of our funding for the expansion, and when we get the rest, we can open up additional capacity.”

What do the patients think?

In Doering’s words, “Patients are amazed. They truly have appreciated the expansion. At one time, we had only 28 chairs and 40 patients in a small space. Everyone was sitting so close together, that physician couldn’t have private conversations because the patient in the next chair could hear. That just isn’t a problem anymore.”

With a lot more space, the cancer centres are purpose-built with sick patients in mind. As any sickly person can imagine, the mood of a healthcare facility matters a great deal—something as seemingly insignificant as lighting and wall colours can affect the way a frequent visitor feels. “There is sufficient space, the lighting is nice, the colours are soft and it’s a relaxing atmosphere,” Doering beams. “There are also big glass fireplaces for the patients.”

Ottawa Hospital didn’t want to forget the families that are caring for their loved ones in the treatment process. “We had to think of accommodating family members who typically drive patients, because they’re not feeling well,” she says. “If you think about those who need a break, they can relax by the fire or grab a Tim Horton’s. There are patient and family libraries with computers at each of the expanded facilities that provide a lot of information.”

‘Tough to beat’

With a state-of-the-art expansion comes state-of-the-art equipment, and the Ottawa Hospital is very excited about what they now have available.
“We just got a CyberKnife,” Doering says. “It’s equipment that does radiosurgery, which allows for non-invasive treatment of tumours. It’s like a radiation treatment but it is very focused treatment. For a brain tumour, a patient would normally go in and have the have skull cut open. The recovery would be two weeks in the hospital, in the intensive care unit. With this CyberKnife, the patient comes in for three days in a row and receives a 45-minute treatment. There is no anaesthesia, no operating room and no overnight stay in the hospital. It’s painless. And it’s so precise, that it spares the healthy tissue and only focuses on the cancer.”  

“The CyberKnife is also great for lung cancer, because surgeons don’t have to worry about the lungs moving as the patient breathes,” she continues. “Typical radiation is not as precise with the lung movement and it can radiate some other tissue around it. But the CyberKnife moves with the respirations, it adjusts.”

This new machine came at no small cost—it was a $3.5-million capital investment. Fortunately, the Ottawa community came together and fundraised for the CyberKnife, showing its support for sick neighbours. We have fundraised for this and I must say the community has been great.

Right now, the hospital is building the bunker for it at the general campus. “We hope to treat our first patient with the CyberKnife during the week of September 20,” says Doering. “We’re really excited about that. It treats spine, kidney, lung, brain cancers and so on. Our folks right now are getting trained on the equipment.” Speaking of which, Ottawa has the only trained neurosurgeon in Ontario for this type of equipment. “I believe when you look at the Ottawa Hospital cancer program, you will see we have the best facilities in the country, if not the world. When you factor in our equipment, facilities and specialists, we are tough to beat.”

Doering is probably right. The cancer program is comprehensive, covering prevention, screening, diagnostics, treatment, palliative care and, optimistically, the cure. “The team here is outstanding,” she concludes. “I am impressed with the calibre of staff who work here; they are always patient focused. And I also am impressed with the commitment from regional partners. It’s a pleasure to be here.”