A powerful new group is moving the needle in cancer care for patients at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, starting with revolutionizing treatment for cervical cancer.
The Echo Alliance is a collaborative group of women with a passion for making a difference dedicated to supporting those affected by cancer. Members of the Echo Alliance are asked to make an annual $1,000 tax-deductible, targeted donation to the Cancer Center. These members are then able to decide how those donations make a meaningful impact by voting on how funds are allocated every one to two years.
For the inaugural funding project, members of the Echo Alliance voted to bring a next-generation instrument to women fighting gynecologic cancers in Baton Rouge. The Geneva Universal Gynecologic Applicator is transforming how these – often complex – cancers are treated. This piece of technology, housed at Mary Bird Perkins’ location on the campus of Woman’s Hospital, is the most advanced version currently on the market and in Louisiana.
Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center sets the standard for treating cervical cancer
Each year, more than 600,000 women worldwide are diagnosed with cervical cancer. Although treatment for this disease is highly effective when detected early, Louisiana has one of the highest cervical cancer death rates in the country. This is in part due to a lack of access to preventative care. Consequently, this disease has a significant impact on many women in our communities.
Treatment for locally advanced cervical cancer is more involved than other gynecological cancers. For most patients, it requires chemotherapy and radiation therapies. The radiation component of treatment included external radiation as well as internal radiation known as brachytherapy.
During brachytherapy treatments, a specialized applicator is inserted inside the body and sometimes inside the tissue. The radiation is then delivered from the inside out when a radioactive source moves through this specialized applicator. By being able to place the applicator immediately adjacent to the cancer, the radiation oncologists can deliver a very high dose of radiation to the tumor and provide the patient with the best possible outcome.
Kate Castle, M.D., radiation oncologist, Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, is a member of the Echo Alliance. She treats cervical cancer patients at Mary Bird Perkins’ location on the campus of Woman’s Hospital. Dr. Castle says cervical cancer is one of the most difficult gynecological cancers to treat and the cases in Louisiana are more complex than in other areas because diagnosis more commonly occurs at later stages.
Mary Bird Perkins’ Prevention on the Go program is working to combat this issue. The comprehensive mobile program provides education and early detection services to locations where people live, work and play. Detecting cancer in its earliest stages means better outcomes are more likely.
“Before practicing in Louisiana, I hadn’t seen so many cases of such advanced stages of this disease,” she says. “If there is no effective brachytherapy treatment option for a patient with cervical cancer, a patient’s overall chance of survival is significantly less than those who have a high-quality brachytherapy option available to them.”
Under Dr. Castle’s leadership, the Cancer Center and Woman’s Hospital have put together a successful program designed for gynecological cancers, including a brachytherapy suite at Woman’s Cancer Pavilion.
The Geneva Applicator, funded by the Echo Alliance, will mean more customized treatment for advanced cervical cancer patients. Not only does this new applicator come with a component that allows for additional configuration, but it also permits for a much more efficient assembly of the device, which can reduce the length of the procedure and the length of anesthesia.
“This new technology provides a much higher quality of care,” Dr. Castle says. “Without philanthropy, this tool wouldn’t be available to us. With this tremendous support from the Echo Alliance, we can immediately better customize treatment for our patients with advanced cervical cancer, shorten treatment times and care for more patients each year.”
While most of the current cervical cancer patients come from Baton Rouge and surrounding areas, cancer centers across the region have begun referring patients to Mary Bird Perkins. The addition of the Geneva Applicator puts the Cancer Center on par with highly reputable cancer centers across the nation and positions the organization as a regional leader in brachytherapy.
Echo Alliance funding provides vital care services to cancer patients
In just a matter of months, the newly formed Echo Alliance surpassed its goal of 100 members in 2022 by a long shot. More than 135 members make up the Echo Alliance; a group for women, created by and led by women.
Because the Alliance has already grown beyond initial expectations, funding has also exceeded first-year goals, as the group has raised more than $135,000, providing an opportunity for the women to make an immediate difference in the lives of cancer patients.
Like all donations benefiting Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, the philanthropy of the Echo Alliance is vital to the programs and services offered to patients during and after cancer treatment. To learn more about the Echo Alliance and become a member visit marybird.org/echoalliancebr.