When John Campbell, a former Vermont state senator and president pro tempore, learned about his prostate cancer diagnosis, he immediately began worrying about how his life would be upended.

Will I have to travel to Boston, New York City or farther for treatment? If so, that’s six weeks of work I’m missing. And I’ll be away from family and friends for that time. Instead, I was able to get the care I needed, less than ten minutes from my home.

John Campbell, former Vermont state senator and president pro tempore

In May, Campbell rang a bell at University of Vermont Health Network – Central Vermont Medical Center, signifying he completed his final radiation treatment from the hospital’s linear accelerator.

It is a life-changing moment UVM Health Network is working to make happen for as many people as possible in our region who find themselves suddenly staring down cancer. It is proposing a multi-year plan giving people like Campbell the chance to take the disease head on with all kinds of experts in their corner, regardless of where they receive care within the health system.

Living just a few miles away from his appointments in Berlin, Campbell knew getting his radiation treatments at Central Vermont Medical Center would offer the convenience and flexibility he was looking for to continue working. He also found the level of expertise comforting.

“Their resumes showed these are some of the best doctors in the Northeast. So, knowing we have experts in their field who are close in proximity is a major relief,” Campbell explains.

The equipment is just as important. Combining great doctors with the latest medical equipment adds up to a big advantage for people like me fighting cancer.

John Campbell

The health system is proposing to replace and upgrade six state-of-the-art linear accelerators at Central Vermont Medical Center, University of Vermont Medical Center, Alice Hyde Medical Center and Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital. The need for this specialized care is clear, with all four sites combining to provide 25,000 treatments using linear accelerators in the 2023 fiscal year.

New technology aims to increase patient access and connect experts across the health system

Linear accelerators are an important tool for people requiring radiation therapy, targeting their tumors with pinpoint accuracy while preventing harm to nearby healthy tissue. They are used to treat cancers in numerous areas of the body, including brain, spine, lung, breast, esophagus, stomach, rectum, uterus, prostate, bladder, liver and bones.

“Right now, we’re providing the highest quality treatment with the technology we currently have at Central Vermont Medical Center and across the health system. The newer technology raises the bar even higher,” adds Carl Nelson, MD, radiation oncologist at Central Vermont Medical Center whose work is also part of University of Vermont Cancer Center.

We’ll do treatments more efficiently, faster and with greater clarity and accuracy.

Carl Nelson, MD, radiation oncologist at Central Vermont Medical Center

Because the linear accelerators will operate more efficiently, some treatment times could be cut in half, according to Dr. Nelson. Even a standard appointment that is set for 15 minutes could be trimmed to ten minutes.

Shorter appointments mean patients can get on with their day and get back to the things they want to be doing away from cancer treatment when possible. We’ll have additional time available to see more patients throughout the day. And, it gives them more flexibility and convenience in the scheduling of appointments with more times available

Carl Nelson, MD

The upgrades include the highest quality imaging that can be captured while the patient is receiving treatment, providing more clarity for providers as they tailor the care plan based on each person’s cancer – where it is in the body and how it is responding to the radiation. This is known as adaptive treatment, and Dr. Nelson adds it’s a huge advantage for patients in Vermont and northern New York.

In addition to the new accelerators, a shared patient oncology care planning system and cloud-based software will be installed at the hospitals, allowing health system cancer experts to review patient treatment plans regardless of where in the health system a patient receives care. The work is part of UVM Health Network’s commitment to provide patients in our region with high quality care in the state-of-the-art, modern facilities they deserve.

“We can get much more involved in cases at other facilities if necessary. One of our radiation oncologists in Plattsburgh, for instance, can lend a hand with a case we’re working on here in Berlin, because it is an area of expertise they have. We’ll be able to leverage a lot of our resources better, because we’re all going to have access to the same information,” Dr. Nelson points out.

It’s the same as having every major cancer facility in the health system right in my backyard. That gives me, as a patient, so much confidence, which is incredibly important when you’re facing something as serious as cancer.

John Campbell

Investing for the Future

Dr. Nelson adds that incorporating an accelerator capable of adaptive treatment is an investment in the future of radiation therapy, positioning the health system to provide specialized, high quality, state-of-the-art care years from now. The new machines will support academic teaching and research partners at University of Vermont, assuring undergraduate students participating in the radiation therapy training program offered through the College of Nursing and Health Sciences have access to the most modern equipment and environment for learning. And the upgrades will meet equipment requirements to enroll patients in clinical research trials while ensuring UVM Health Network has clinical capabilities that will be attractive to radiation oncology candidates in future employee recruitment.

Next Steps

Central Vermont Medical Center has taken the first step in the health system’s plan by submitting a proposal to its Vermont regulator, the Green Mountain Care Board, for approval of its linear accelerator. The application is currently under review. If approved by state regulators, construction is expected to begin at the hospital in Berlin later this year, with a go-live date in 2025. Plans for linear accelerators at other UVM Health Network hospitals are expected to follow over the next few years.

As for Campbell, he admits that the treatments are one of the most challenging things he has ever endured. And he says Central Vermont Medical Center was the perfect fit for his cancer care.

“I am so impressed with the whole setup there. And when you’re dealing with cancer, you want to feel comfortable with the people who are caring for you. Well, they made me feel like part of the family right away. There’s no place I’d rather go,” he concludes.