Cancer Care Network's Tahoe Forest program a model for rural oncology care

Tahoe Forest cancer specialist Dr. Tirdel © UC Regents
Tahoe Forest Health System provides a team approach to cancer care that includes their own clinicians as well as specialists at UC Davis Cancer Center.

Posted June 1, 2011

Before Tahoe Forest Cancer Center opened five years ago, a cancer diagnosis for someone living in the area meant regular treks out of town to a facility specializing in cancer treatment.

Today, thanks to the rural hospital's affiliation with UC Davis Cancer Center, residents of Truckee and surrounding areas have access to leading cancer experts, tumor boards and clinical trials close to home.

The affiliation, through the UC Davis Cancer Care Network, now is considered a sustainable model for high-quality cancer care that overcomes geographic, cultural and financial barriers, according to an article published online today in the Journal of Oncology Practice, a publication of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Scott Christensen, a UC Davis Cancer Center oncologist and director of the Cancer Care Network, said the relationship is mutually beneficial.

"We married the expertise of the University of California with the local expertise of a community provider," he said. "The local folks know their population's needs, and we provide access to things that can't realistically be obtained in a local community."

Laurence Heifetz, an oncologist, Tahoe Forest Cancer Center director and author of the article, said the new program attempted to address the three major fears that cancer patients have, in addition to death, pain and disability: "fear of disorganized care, fear of burdening their families and caregivers unreasonably, and fear of getting yesterday's therapy."

As part of the UC Davis Cancer Care Network, the Tahoe Forest patients have professional relationships with oncologists at UC Davis Cancer Center, which is one of only 66 in the country designated by the National Cancer Institute for its research, clinical and outreach expertise. The virtual tumor board allows physicians at both sites to discuss in detail each patient's particular case using videoconferencing technology. The tumor boards allow the doctors and nurses to view diagnostic imaging studies, pathology and accompanying information.

Dr. Christensen © UC Regents"We married the expertise of the University of California with the local expertise of a community provider."
— Scott Christensen

Tahoe Forest patients also are given opportunities to join clinical trials testing the newest treatments for certain types of cancer. According to the article, 157 patients have been screened for clinical trials and 13 trials are open to Tahoe Forest patients.

Tahoe Forest Cancer Center © UC Regents
A partnership between UC Davis and Tahoe Forest Cancer Center (pictured above) gives cancer patients in Truckee, Calif., access to the latest clinical trials of new treatments.

Patients also can easily access UC Davis Cancer Center physicians for virtual second opinions on their diagnoses and treatment regimens. When necessary, they can schedule cancer surgery with specially trained surgical oncologists at UC Davis Medical Center.

Tahoe Forest Cancer Center has seen more than 900 patients since establishing the partnership with UC Davis, and now has an additional oncologist on staff and plans to expand services to include radiation therapy.

"The network partners placed significant value on understanding our very separate institutional cultures and formulating mutually beneficial strategies to blend them." Heifetz wrote in the journal article, "The success was facilitated by active participation by the leadership at both of our cancer centers who were able to convince colleagues of the value of this special relationship."

UC Davis Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated center serving the Central Valley and inland Northern California, a region of more than 6 million people. Its top specialists provide compassionate, comprehensive care for more than 9,000 adults and children every year, and offer patients access to more than 150 clinical trials at any given time. Its innovative research program includes more than 280 scientists at UC Davis and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The unique partnership, the first between a major cancer center and national laboratory, has resulted in the discovery of new tools to diagnose and treat cancer. Through the Cancer Care Network, UC Davis is collaborating with a number of hospitals and clinical centers throughout the Central Valley and Northern California regions to offer the latest cancer-care services. For more information, visit