Summa Health System is trying to boost its ability to battle cancer by expanding its radiation oncology services in the region.
The health system recently recruited a doctor with national research expertise from University Hospitals in Cleveland to serve as medical director of radiation oncology at Summa Akron City Hospital.
Dr. Charles Kunos, who grew up in Stow, joined Summa this month to lead radiation oncology services at City Hospital. He previously served as director of gynecologic, pediatric and musculoskeletal radiation at UH.
“I’m returning to my local roots and coming to serve the oncology community in the Akron area,” he said.
Kunos brings to Akron his experience serving on committees for the National Cancer Institute.
He also plans to continue leading several national research studies in Akron, including a clinical trial for a drug that preliminary tests have shown could increase cervical cancer cure rates from 70 percent to 96 percent.
Continued recruitment of doctors who bring expertise to the region is a key to the health system’s growth strategy, Thomas J. Strauss, Summa’s president and chief executive, said in a recent interview.
Dr. Susan M. Hong, a radiation oncologist who had been based at the Summa Health Center at Lake Medina outpatient facility in Medina County, has been appointed medical director of radiation oncology for the health system, effective this month.
Hong previously worked at University Hospitals, where she was a colleague with Kunos. She’s also a Northeast Ohio native and earned her medical degree from what is now the Northeast Ohio Medical University in Rootstown.
Both doctors are employed by Summa Physicians Inc., the health system’s physician practice.
“A number of patients are under the misconception that they have to travel an hour north to receive their care,” Hong said. “It’s important for our neighbors in the Akron community to understand that expert care is available with state-of-the-art technology right in their backyard.”
The health system offers radiation treatments at Akron City and Barberton hospitals, as well as in its outpatient facility in Medina County.
As part of the staffing changes, City Hospital’s former chief of radiation oncology, Dr. William Demas, has relocated his office to the Parkview Center on the Summa Barberton Hospital campus, Summa spokeswoman Jennifer Farquhar said. Demas and his partner, who are part of a local independent radiation oncology practice, will continue to treat patients at Barberton.
Summa is opting to staff its radiation oncology program with doctors who are employed by the health system, Farquhar said. Five Summa-employed specialists will be on staff by August.
“The end result is an increased number of physicians on staff and more access points for patients,” she said. “It’s making the best use of the specialists that we can in the community.”
Demas declined to comment about the change.
Dr. Desiree Doncals, another radiation oncologist who was based at City Hospital, has joined Summa Physicians Inc. and relocated to the Summa Health Center at Lake Medina, Farquhar said.
Rise in radiation therapy
According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, demand for radiation therapy is expected to outpace the availability of specialists in the coming years.
Between 2010 and 2020, the number of patients receiving radiation therapy during their initial treatment course for cancer is expected to increase from 470,000 to 575,000 per year — a 22 percent increase, the study found. During that same period, the number of radiation oncologists is expected to increase only 2 percent.
Summa treats about 2,000 patients for cancer each year. Hong estimates 60 to 70 percent of them undergo radiation at some point in their treatment course.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation from X-rays, gamma rays or charged particles to shrink and kill cancer cells. The radiation can be delivered from a machine outside the body, through radioactive materials placed in the body near the cancer tumor or through radioactive substances that travel in the blood.
The field is increasingly competitive, with cross-town rival Akron General Health System also taking steps in recent years to enhance its radiation oncology capabilities.
Last year, Akron General Health System acquired a $5 million Leskell Gamma Knife Perfexion unit, which uses precise beams of radiation instead of an actual knife to target and destroy brain tumors and other cranial disorders while minimizing damage to healthy tissue.
Summa has the Novalis System by Brainlab, which provides what is known as stereotactic radiosurgery. The system delivers a concentrated, shaped radiation beam to target brain tumors precisely, as well as malignancies in other parts of the body.
Kunos said he plans to expand Summa’s use of the Novalis system to treat more patients with cancer, particularly those with gynecological cancers.
“Over the next few years,” he said, “we’re trying to enhance patient access to Summa oncology services.”
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.