While excitement is building about construction of the Helmsley Center as new home to Avera Cancer Institute in Pierre, a local cancer expert reminds us that Avera already has a strong offering of cancer care services in South Dakota’s capital city.
Sreekanth Donepudi, MD, an oncologist at Avera St. Mary’s Hospital, said that while everyone’s excited about grant funding from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust that will help fund the construction of a new home for Avera Cancer Institute Pierre and enhanced cancer services, he wants to make sure the public is aware of many treatment services for advanced cancer now in place.
Those services include chemotherapy and immunotherapy, as well as genetic testing, which uses pinpoint accuracy matching certain cancers and the best-choice drugs to fight them. These tools to fight cancer now are available in Pierre; so too is Avera eCARE™ that seamlessly links physicians in the city to other hubs in the Avera Cancer Institute system.
“We continue to work closely with our colleagues in Sioux Falls. Avera Cancer Institute teams make use of our eCARE technology, and that puts patients and doctors in the same room, even when hundreds of miles of physical space separate them,” Donepudi said. “Many patients are surprised we can provide comprehensive genomic evaluations and bone marrow transplant evaluations, and they get these processes started without them even having to even leave town.”
Donepudi said that in addition, three full-time surgeons in Pierre, screening technology such as 3-D mammography and a full range of treatment services makes cancer care in central South Dakota vital and strong, with a stronger future in sight.
“We are enthusiastic about the developments that are in the work, but what we offer now is something we’re proud of, especially when we realize that most patients who are diagnosed with advanced cancer are beginning treatment with us in less than a week in many cases,” Donepudi said. “Many people assume the cancer care they need is only available at leading health centers miles from Pierre, but those services are, in many cases, available here.”
Patients with this misconception often get reassurance when they meet with Donepudi and members of the Avera Cancer Institute team in Pierre.
“That is our biggest concern, that some patients with advanced cancer don’t realize that we offer state-of-the-art therapy for their cancer, right here in Pierre,” he said. “We have had patients who travel all the way to what they see as a leading cancer center only to learn they could receive comparable care closer to home.”
While radiation oncology is among the cancer services that will come to central South Dakota with the development of its care center, referral services can help those patients who need this service.
“One aspect we do not offer is radiation oncology, but we can get patients referrals to facilities that do have it, including Avera Cancer Institute in Sioux Falls,” Donepudi said. “Radiation oncology will be part of the additions that come with the construction of our new facility.”
Donepudi said cancer diagnoses can lead to family stress, but that efforts to inform more people around the region will help allay that stress and improve outcomes.
“Many of the exact same things you might find in a world-class cancer center are available to residents of South Dakota here in Pierre,” he said. “We may live in a rural area, but our services are leading-edge technology and equal in quality to what others may offer. When people learn this, it helps their confidence in facing cancer, because they know access to these services will be easier than they expected, in many cases.”