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(Janesville, WI) Neil Johnson, Gazette

St. Mary's Janesville Hospital is breaking ground on an addition that will expand its local cancer services, providing patients radiation oncology treatment closer to home.

The hospital announced construction Tuesday of a $10 million radiation oncology facility it will build out of the current infusion area at the hospital where cancer patients now receive chemotherapy and surgical oncology.

The expansion, a single-story, 8,750-square-foot area at the hospital's Dean Clinic area on the campus's southwest side, would house new computer imaging equipment and a linear accelerator designed to administer radiation therapy to cancer patients with “pinpoint” accuracy, hospital officials said.

The hospital plans to have the expansion built, staffed and operating by August 2016.

Eric Thornton, vice president of operations at the hospital, is overseeing the expansion. He said the project will mark the first time St. Mary's Janesville Hospital has offered radiation therapy for cancer, although the offering has been planned since the hospital opened in early 2012.

He said the expansion will share an entrance and waiting areas with other cancer treatment areas and is part of SSM Health and St. Mary's goal of offering “complete, comprehensive” cancer care in Janesville.

For St. Mary's patients, the expansion would broaden the types of cancer treatment available to patients without having to leave Rock County.

“A cancer diagnosis is tough enough. The last thing you want to have to do is go to multiple facilities for treatment,” Thornton said.

According to the hospital's plans, the expansion will include new computerized tomography imaging equipment, or CT simulation, that's designed to take advanced images of cross sections of tissue as part of cancer treatment planning.

The radiation oncology facility would require 10 or 11 additional staff. The hospital is still in the process of naming a director to lead the radiation oncology department.

Thornton said the bulk of the space needed is for a TrueBeam linear accelerator. The radiation machine is designed to use 3-D images to focus and administer doses of radiation, according to manufacturer Varian Medical Systems.

Thornton said St. Mary's research showed TrueBeam is “the most cutting edge technology available.”

The machine, which weighs about 26,000 pounds, is similar to a TrueBeam system at Saint Mary's Hospital in Baraboo, Thornton said. It would be housed in a concrete room that patients would enter for treatment.

The building addition would include a patient resource area where cancer patients can research their diagnosis, relax and meet with support groups, Thornton and hospital spokeswoman Kathryn Scott said.

Thornton said long-term plans are to add a special shop that would offer hairpieces, clothing and accessories for people undergoing cancer treatments.

The hospital's cancer treatment area is adjacent to a picturesque outdoor healing garden on the south side of the hospital campus.

During construction, Thornton and Scott said, the hospital's other cancer services will remain open and won't be impacted. The hospital is in now breaking ground to replace parking that will be lost through expansion.

The expansion includes extra space to add a second linear accelerator should cancer treatment demands increase locally, Thornton and Scott said.

The city plan commission recommended approval of the hospital's expansion plan last month, and the council approved the plans early this month.

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