By TEDDYE SNELL
In Cherokee County and the surrounding area, people dealing with cancer have access to a state-of-the-art local facility.
Through its Northeast Oklahoma Cancer Center, Tahlequah City Hospital’s on-site cancer treatment capacity is on par with that of any urban hospital or research university.
“I am in charge of radiation therapy oncology at the center,” said Dr. Daniel Murphy. “We have a basic linear accelerator - the most advanced available. With this standard platform, we can perform 85 to 90 percent of radiation treatments. If someone needs something more advanced, we can refer [him or her] to another facility.”
The NOCC also has a PET/CT scanner, which can be used to determine whether cancer is present or to plan treatments. Digital data is scrutinized at multiple computer terminals.
“In radiation oncology, there are four treatment steps: evaluation, simulation, planning and delivery,” Murphy said. “The PET/CT scanner allows us to determine where in the body radiation therapy is to be applied.”
The center is busy. Murphy said 35 patients were scheduled for radiation therapy on Wednesday, with many other patients visiting for other treatments.
Patients can receive medical oncology, or chemotherapy, at the center through visits by doctors from St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa.
“They are outstanding medical oncology doctors,” Murphy said. “We also have excellent surgical expertise at the hospital as well. Most surgeries can be performed at TCH.”
Murphy said almost all of his patients are referred, often by specialists.
“An example might be a primary care doctor finds an elevated [prostate-specific antigen] level during a routine screening,” Murphy said. “The patient is likely to be sent first to a urologist. The urologist then might need to send the patient here for appropriate treatments.”
The NOCC maximizes its services to allow patients to get as much treatment as possible at one facility, but Murphy said cancer treatment is a team effort.
“In Oklahoma, there are only so many people who do what I do,” Murphy said. “Doctors in this area who treat cancer know one another. We all participate in national meetings and undergo constant retraining and certification to stay on top of our fields and those of each other.”
Asked why he entered such a demanding sphere of medicine, Murphy said he chose radiation oncology precisely because it is a tough job.
“It is so difficult and challenging,” he said. “I got interested in radiation in high school and really enjoyed physics. During my medical education, I realized I was good at psychology, pathology, radiology and surgery. This is what I want to do. Radiation oncology is actually one of the hardest fields to enter now. There are always lots of applications and lots of advances in the field.”
Murphy said it’s important that cancer patients are aware of the array of services offered at the NOCC.
“The main thing people need to remember is that TCH is part of a complete cancer treatment program,” Murphy said. “We recently treated a patient sent to us by Duke University Medical Center. People know about the Northeast Oklahoma Cancer Center. We have a great reputation and we work hard to maintain it.”