Why more Vt. cancer patients can now be treated closer to home - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Why more Vt. cancer patients can now be treated closer to home

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Dr. Julian Sprague Dr. Julian Sprague

Doctors at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington have been offering stem cell therapy for patients with myeloma, lymphomas and some types of leukemia since 1995. It's a life-saving procedure when patients relapse and need a very high dose of chemotherapy, what doctors call the insurance that every last cancer cells gets killed.

"And the only way to do that is to give them a really high dose to eradicate every cell. But if you do that, then the bone marrow, unlike the previous treatments that they got-- where the bone marrow recovered-- the bone marrow is not going to recover. So, you're going to kill a patient if you give them this high dose of chemotherapy. To prevent that, you're going to save some of their stem cells in the bank and give it back to them after you've given them this high-dose therapy," said Dr. Julian Sprague, a hematologist at FAHC.

Those stem cells are removed by a simple pheresis machine beforehand when the patient is in remission. They get them back in order to re-ignite their immune system. But in recent years, insurance companies have gotten pickier about who they cover, requiring new accreditations for facilities. So until now, despite a long-running, high-quality program at the Vermont Cancer Center, some Vermont patients had to travel outside the state.

"But the FACT certification says hey, the University of Vermont-- Fletcher Allen is measuring up to the same standards as Dana Farber Cancer Institute is and so that's really the important of it, I think," Sprague said.

The Vermont Cancer Center's stem cell program is now formally recognized by Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy or FACT. And Sprague says one of Vermont's major insurance plans has already approved the program for reimbursement. That means increased access for cancer patients in our region-- those who need a stem cell transplant to save their life.

Doctors at Fletcher Allen have been performed about 300 stem cell transplants since 1995, about 20 each year. They believe that number could now grow by 25 percent annually.

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