In the two years since NYU Langone Health established Perlmutter Cancer Center—Sunset Park in 2019, cancer care for Brooklyn’s southwest neighborhoods now includes increased access to innovative cancer treatments, additional specialists, and clinical trials. People with cancer also have access to a screening program for lung cancer, coordinated care for people with breast cancer, and expansion of state-of-the art radiation oncology services.
Coordination of Cancer Care for People Across Brooklyn and Staten Island
As the only National Cancer Institute–designated Comprehensive Cancer Center offering care for people in Brooklyn, Perlmutter Cancer Center—Sunset Park fulfills an unmet medical need for the population in Sunset Park, Bay Ridge, and adjacent neighborhoods.
With Perlmutter Cancer Center—Sunset Park just two blocks away from NYU Langone Hospital—Brooklyn, physicians there can refer inpatients or those diagnosed with cancer at the emergency department to oncologists at the Sunset Park facility.
Located near the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge and with free parking, Perlmutter Cancer Center—Sunset Park makes it convenient for people from Staten Island to receive care without traveling to Manhattan.
Referrals for cancer care also come through Rajeev L. Balmiki, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine, who sees patients twice a week at Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone Brooklyn—4th Avenue Oncology and three times a week at Sunset Park Family Health Center at NYU Langone—55th Street. The Family Health Centers at NYU Langone is one of the largest Federally Qualified Health Center networks in the nation that provides government-subsidized, community-based care for underserved communities.
Lung Cancer Screening Saves Lives
According to Abraham Chachoua, MD, director of the Lung Cancer Center and associate director for cancer services at Perlmutter Cancer Center, more than 100 people with lung cancer are referred to medical oncologists at Perlmutter Cancer Center—Sunset Park each year, a significant increase from just 2 years ago.
Many people with lung cancer nationally are presenting with late-stage disease, Dr. Chachoua says, a trend he has seen in Sunset Park as well.
“Patients in Sunset Park are medically underserved and have limited access to care. The better way to cure a lung cancer is to detect it early,” says Dr. Chachoua, who is also the Jay and Isabel Fine Professor of Oncology and professor of urology. “We decided that our best bet for catching lung cancers was to set up lung cancer screening in that population.”
As an example of the coordination of care that accompanies screening, Dr. Chachoua cites a patient in his later 40s with a heavy smoking history, whose scan showed a spot consistent with lung cancer. The patient was able to be seen by three physicians on the same day. First, he was seen by a pulmonologist who used robotic-assisted bronchoscopy to make a diagnosis of cancer. The patient was then referred to a surgical oncologist and to Dr. Chachoua. Although the patient has no insurance, Dr. Chachoua was able to obtain financial assistance through philanthropic funding available at NYU Langone for patients without insurance. Ultimately, the patient’s case was presented to the thoracic tumor board at Perlmutter Cancer Center—34th Street, which recommended surgery for the cancer.
Navigation for People with Breast Cancer, from Screening to Treatment to Survivorship
Breast cancer care in Brooklyn was well established before Perlmutter Cancer Center opened the facility in Sunset Park, with a screening program in place and surgical care coordinated by Janet Yeh, MD, assistant professor of surgery, at NYU Langone Ambulatory Care Bay Ridge. What was needed, Dr. Chachoua says, was to partner the existing surgical care with a medical oncologist and to improve patient navigation through the system.
Medical oncology is provided by Elena Katz, MD, clinical assistant professor of medicine, who sees patients twice a week at the Sunset Park facility and three times a week at Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone Ambulatory Care Rego Park.
The Beatrice W. Welters Breast Health Outreach and Navigation Program, co-directed by Kathie-Ann Joseph, MD, MPH, professor of surgery and population health, and Joseph E. Ravenell, MD, associate professor of population health and medicine, provides a navigator to guide patients through the treatment process as part of Flatbush Family Health Center at NYU Langone and other Family Health Centers at NYU Langone locations. The navigator stays with the patient through the continuum of care, from screening to treatment and through survivorship.
Radiation Oncologists Strive for Patient Convenience, Satisfaction, and Improved Outcomes
In March 2021, Thomas B. Daniels, MD, was named service chief of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Perlmutter Cancer Center—Sunset Park, which offers a full-service radiation oncology operation for patients, providing care for both inpatients and outpatients. Since his arrival, Dr. Daniels has been focused on patient convenience and satisfaction.
“We offer the most modern radiation treatments that can be done in the shortest period of time with maximum safety,” says Dr. Daniels, who is a clinical associate professor of radiation oncology. “We work very hard to accommodate patients’ schedules so that if they are here seeing one of the medical oncologists, they can receive coordinated care with radiation oncologists and other specialists without making multiple trips to get an opinion.”
Technology advances have decreased the amount of time required for radiation courses, Dr. Daniels notes. Radiation treatments for breast cancer, for example, that would have been given over 6.5 weeks a few years ago can now be given in 15, and sometimes as few as 5, treatments.
Dr. Daniels also uses a technology called stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT), which can deliver larger daily doses of radiation over a shorter period of time that are as effective as—if not more effective than—standard radiation treatments. Radiation oncologists at the Sunset Park facility have been using SBRT to treat patients with spinal cord tumors and prostate, lung, and pancreatic cancers.