Thanks to philanthropic dollars, more local cancer patients can receive their treatments right here in northern Colorado instead of having to go to Denver.

A gynecologic oncology (GYN-ONC) program established in the UCHealth northern region in 2020 brings advanced care close to home for women who have cancers of the reproductive system. GYN-ONC is a unique surgical subspecialty that provides innovative treatments for patients with cancers of the ovaries, vagina, uterus, cervix, and vulva.

In the three-plus years since the GYN-ONC program’s launch in northern Colorado, patient volumes have increased, and a need for additional radiation equipment arose. With dollars from our cancer center and oncology services fund, the radiation oncology department was able to purchase equipment that helps meet the increased patient volume at our Harmony Campus cancer center.

The equipment is part of a targeted radiation therapy system. The system includes cylindrical applicators in a range of sizes so they can be fitted precisely to the patient’s vaginal canal. The applicators are used to provide a therapeutic dose of radiation for intracavitary treatment of cancers of the endometrium and vagina, while minimizing exposure to surrounding healthy tissue such as the bladder and rectum.

The applicators must be sterilized after each use, and the turnaround time for sterilization is generally 24 hours. In addition, the applicators have a manufacturer-specified life cycle, so they must be replaced after a defined number of uses.

The combination of increased volume plus the turnaround time for applicator sterilization resulted in long lead times for treating patients. Thanks to the generosity of the foundation’s donors, the cancer center was able to purchase four additional applicators in the most commonly used size.

Eliminating the anxiety of traveling for treatment
Amy Becker, a physician assistant at the UCHealth Cancer Center – Harmony Campus, works with patients who receive this targeted radiation therapy.

“It is not uncommon for a patient’s cancer journey to involve multiple providers and departments,” Becker said. “Oftentimes patients are seeing surgeons, medical oncologists, chemotherapy nurses, radiation oncologists, radiation therapists, and so forth. Having a variety of sizes of applicators as well as multiple sets of applicators at our Harmony Campus means patients can remain with the team they know the best, instead of having to go to Denver for this specialized treatment.”

Becker added, “Cancer care at our Anschutz Cancer Pavilion is top-notch, but sending our northern Colorado patients to a large, unfamiliar facility adds an unnecessary layer of anxiety to an already stressful journey. Many patients thank me at every treatment for taking care of them at the same clinic that handled all their other treatment. Quite honestly, it is never lost on me how grateful and appreciative these women are for the care they are getting with us.”

Ongoing philanthropic investments support the innovative GYN-ONC program
The purchase of the applicators is the latest of several philanthropic investments in support of the northern Colorado GYN-ONC program. In 2020, philanthropic dollars were used to purchase equipment to diagnose and treat precancerous and cancerous conditions of the cervix. In 2021, philanthropic dollars helped pay for specialized training for care providers in the program: Oncology rehabilitation staff received training to provide pelvic floor therapy, and a nurse practitioner undertook training to qualify as a surgical assistant for complex GYN-ONC patients.

The foundation is grateful for the generosity that helps ensure patients in our community can receive the life-saving cancer treatments they need—promptly and close to home.