Filling the hole in Juneau’s cancer treatment options

Southeast Radiation Oncology Center
The Southeast Radiation Oncology Center is located on Salmon Creek Lane, near Bartlett Regional Hospital and the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium campus in Juneau. Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO.

Starting next month cancer patients in Juneau and Southeast Alaska won’t have far to travel for radiation treatment.

The new Southeast Radiation Oncology Center opens December 12th in the Capital City. It’s the first radiation cancer treatment center in the region.

Dr. Eugene Huang arrived in Juneau a week and a half ago, and says so far he loves his new community.

“I love this town,” he says. “Of any place I’ve ever been, the people here are the warmest, most welcoming, most inviting and most friendly people I’ve ever met.”

The 36-year-old Huang is medical director for Southeast Radiation Oncology Center. His wife, their two children, and a pair of Pomeranians will be joining him in the Capital City in about two weeks.

They come to Juneau from Cleveland, where Huang was a radiation oncologist at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic. Before that he did his residency at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, near where he attended medical school at Baylor University.

Huang says opening a brand new clinic has always been one of his professional dreams.

“To be able to be part of helping to build something, and to bring a service to a community that really needs it,” says Huang.

Dr Eugene Huang Southeast Radiation Oncology Center
Dr. Eugene Huang is medical director at Southeast Radiation Oncology Center. Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO.

Radiation has been the missing component from cancer treatment in Juneau. Surgery and chemotherapy are available locally, but patients who need radiation have had to travel to Anchorage, Seattle, or other communities, sometimes for weeks or months at a time.

Once the center opens, Huang says people will be able to have their treatment during the day and sleep in their own bed at night.

“Most patients will be in and out of our doors within 15 minutes,” Huang says.

He’s not sure what the actual demand will be, but says the clinic will have the ability to see 35 to 40 patients per day. Huang says his job will be to act as a kind of care coordinator, working with other medical professionals to develop a treatment plan for each patient.

Both his mother and grandmother had cancer, so he says he knows how important it is to find the right treatment for each individual.

“Obviously as a physician, a lot of times we’re focused on the medical treatment aspect of it,” he says. “But I know from personal experience that that’s only one component of what a patient goes through.”

Nicole Hallingstad is president of the Cancer Connection board of directors. The Juneau nonprofit offers programs and services to help cancer patients, survivors, and their families. She says having a radiation oncology center in Juneau is a game changer.

“Being able to receive radiation in Juneau benefits the patient in so many ways,” Hallingstad says. “We recognize that patients will make choices about where they will receive their health care. But for those who can remain home, or in a region that has a support network for them, is tremendously important.”

According to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, there were more than 1,800 cases of cancer diagnosed in Juneau from 1996 to 2011, the most recent years for which data was available.

Huang and Southeast Radiation Oncology Center President Greg Merrill will be speaking at Thursday’s Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

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