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Largo's new Gulfcoast Cancer Center offers, labs, radiation and chemotherapy

Cancer patients often have to go from place to place to get the treatments they need. A new cancer center strives to make fighting cancer a bit less stressful.

The Gulfcoast Cancer Center — Largo, which opened in January, offers diagnostic imaging, labs, radiation and chemotherapy, all in one spot.

Dr. Jeffrey Paonessa, a medical oncologist who envisioned the center, said patients love the convenience.

The setup also makes it easier for specialists to communicate directly with each other and to tailor treatment plans for their patients, he said.

"There's a lot less room for error when everyone is in the same room looking at pictures in addition to a report," said Paonessa, president of both providers housed in the center, Gulfcoast Oncology Associates and Gulfcoast Cancer Institute.

The 24,000-square-foot center, developed and co-owned by Optimal Outcomes LLC of St. Petersburg, broke ground last year. It sees about 120 to 150 patients a day.

The center provides diagnostic imaging with a positron emission tomography and computed tomography — or PET/CT — machine that lets doctors pinpoint the size, location and metabolic activity of cancer.

And a mammoth, state of the art machine, called a Varian Trilogy linear accelerator, delivers radiation treatments. The machine, which costs more than $2 million, is the first of its kind in Pinellas, according to Tim McMahon, chief operating officer of Gulfcoast Cancer Institute.

Radiation therapists use the accelerator's onboard imaging system and in-room lasers to position patients and enable the device to target tumors with a high degree of accuracy. The machine also rotates around patients to deliver radiation from a variety of angles.

While the facility offers serious medical treatments, elements of the center create a spa-like feel.

High windows let in natural light. Walls are painted with soft neutral colors and adorned with European cityscapes and tropical scenes.

In the radiation therapy room, a faux skylight provides a glimpse of imaginary tree branches. And the chemotherapy room has reclining chairs, a mini coffee bar and a reading area.

Martha Hill, an Indian Rocks Beach resident diagnosed with multiple myeloma, started coming to the center earlier this year.

Her treatment for the cancer, which develops in the blood, includes an oral medication and an intravenous medication for her bones every few months in the center's chemotherapy room, she said.

She says the atmosphere at the center is uplifting.

"There's something about that building," said Hill, 58, who learned Wednesday her cancer is in remission. "You walk in and you feel like you're still outside."

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or 445-4155.

Gulfcoast Cancer Center — Largo

Where: 100 Highland Ave., just north of East Bay Drive

Cost: $9.3 million

Size: 24,000 square feet

Employees: 35

Tenants: Gulfcoast Oncology Associates, which provides medical oncology consultation, chemotherapy treatments and laboratory tests, and Gulfcoast Cancer Institute, which provides radiation oncology services and advanced imaging.

Largo's new Gulfcoast Cancer Center offers, labs, radiation and chemotherapy 04/25/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 25, 2009 12:32pm]
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