Cancer center breaks ground in Middletown

Staff Writer

 Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is building a facility in Middletown. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is building a facility in Middletown. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has started work on a 304,000-squarefoot outpatient cancer treatment facility known as MSK Monmouth in Middletown.

The building that will house the center, which was approved by the Middletown Planning Board in January 2013, is undergoing renovations to accommodate about 125,000 square feet of clinical space, according to Richard Bakarat, deputy physician in-chief for MSK Regional Care Network and Alliances. Completion of the center is anticipated for fall 2016.

Located on Red Hill Road, the threestory, 285,000-square-foot office building was last occupied by Lucent Technologies a decade ago.

Since the site provides more space than is needed for a treatment center, MSK will use the extra room to create a 50,000- square-foot data center on-site. The data center will house research, health records and other digital information under one roof.

“The clinical space will include radiation oncology and medical oncology,” Bakarat said at the Sept. 18 groundbreaking ceremony. “There will also be surgical consultations done here, and we also have … two operating rooms dedicated to performing minor operations.

“We’ll also be doing endoscopy … and we’ll have support services like social work, nutrition and [assistance for] issues involving survivorship.”

MSK Monmouth will initially create 160 salaried positions at the treatment center.

According to Bakarat, patients with a number of different types of cancer will be treated at the center, including but not limited to lymphoma, breast, lung, colon and gynecological cancers.

“The advantage of a site like this is that [patients who have undergone major surgery] may need further treatments, including radiation and chemotherapy,” Bakarat said. “[If patients have to] get chemotherapy, which makes you sick and tired, it would be so much better for the patients to travel 10 to 15 minutes from their home and get treatment here.”

Jessica Bruzzi, an MSK patient from Manalapan, recalled the difficulties of traveling to Manhattan for surgery and MSK’s Basking Ridge location for follow-up visits after she was diagnosed with a rare form of soft tissue sarcoma in February 2012.

“When I received the news of my diagnosis I felt completely blindsided,” Bruzzi said. “I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. My life was completely normal two weeks prior, and now I was facing cancer and surgery.”

A month after her diagnosis, Bruzzi underwent surgery at MSK in Manhattan.

“The weeks after my surgery were incredibly difficult for me,” Bruzzi said. “I was exhausted, in pain, and I had difficulty walking.”

Despite struggling to recover from the procedure, Bruzzi still had to make a number of trips to MSK’s outpatient center in Basking Ridge, more than an hour away from her hometown of Manalapan.

A large, centrally located facility like MSK Monmouth would have helped to ease those difficulties, she said.

In addition to meeting the region’s need for a regional cancer treatment center, MSK Monmouth will employ clinical trials to find new techniques and treatments that can combat the disease, according to Ephraim Casper, the medical director of the MSK Regional Care Network.

“A clinical trial is a type of clinical research study that tests a new medical approach to make sure that it is both safe and effective,” Casper said. “Almost a third of the patients at MSK are enrolled in clinical trials — our patients and researchers are taking part in over 900 clinical trials at any given time.

“Many of these trials will become available to patients right here at MSK Monmouth,” he said.

Through those trials, new breakthrough techniques may be discovered that can alter and improve the way doctors treat cancer patients, Casper said.

“At MSK we are constantly working to expand the clinical trials to increase the spectrum of studies we’ve gone through and to make novel treatments available to our patients,” he said.