BREWER, Maine — Eastern Maine Medical Center’s CancerCare of Maine has been struggling for the past few years to cope with an average of 100 patients a day seeking radiation treatment.
But the arrival of two new high-tech machines — and the December opening of its new facility in Brewer — should ease the strain on both patients and employees.
“The new machines will help,” said Carol Guptill, manager of radiation and oncology at EMMC.
“We’re much busier than we used to be,” she added. “We’ve had to actually extend our hours.”
CancerCare of Maine is the cancer treatment center for nearly two-thirds of the state. Its current radiation facilities in the basement of the Webber Building on the EMMC campus often have to stay open until 7 p.m. to treat all of the patients.
“We’d like to be working an 8-to-5 day,” Guptill said.
“This [new] space is massive, compared to what we have now,” she added.
CancerCare’s new building on Whiting Hill Road in Brewer is under construction. Guptill expects the facility to be open by Dec. 14.
On Friday, CancerCare of Maine received the Clinic IX with Rapid Arc, a radiation treatment machine that Guptill said takes only five minutes to treat some patients, compared with the 30 minutes it takes for the two older machines at the Webber Building.
The efficiency is the result of an automated arm, or gantry, that emits the radiation.
“With what we currently have, the gantry is moved manually by the therapist. The [radiation] beam is shaped manually,” Guptill said, “whereas with the new system everything is automatic.”
The machine also employs on board imaging to allow technicians to immediately adjust to the target area being treated if a patient moves.
On Aug. 1, CancerCare of Maine received the Novalis TX with Brain Lab Robotics, a sophisticated radiation machine that is useful in operating on brain tumors.
Technicians from Varian, the company that makes both the Clinic IX and Novalis TX, are installing the machines in separate, concrete-lined rooms at CancerCare of Maine’s new location, a process that takes six to eight weeks.
Specialists at EMMC then will spend around three weeks calibrating the machines.
“This Brain Lab machine will be able to treat special tumors we can’t treat now,” Guptill said. “You’re basically doing surgery with radiation.”
With the new equipment, Guptill hopes to treat as many as 125 people a day.
EMMC’s current facilities also have a newer Rapid Arc machine, which Andrea Littlefield, communications specialist at EMMC, said eventually will be moved to the new location.
The increased demand for radiation treatment stems from early detection of cancer, Guptill said.
“It’s being diagnosed earlier, so patients are undergoing treatments longer,” she said.
“A few years ago, a hundred [patients] a day was not the norm,” she added.
Littlefield said patients would be treated at both the Webber Building and the Whiting Hill Road locations after the new building opens in December.
Guptill expects CancerCare of Maine to complete its move to Whiting Hill Road two months after that.