Maryland’s cancer moonshot will have huge impact in Prince George’s County

Maryland is throwing a flurry of punches in the battle against cancer — some $216 million worth of punches, under what’s being dubbed the Maryland Cancer Moonshot Initiative.

The money for cancer research and treatment is part of Gov. Larry Hogan’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Hogan, who is a cancer survivor, unveiled the plan Wednesday.

About 30% of the money — some $67 million — will help build the new Prince George’s Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Maryland Capital Region Medical Center in Largo. A ceremonial groundbreaking is being scheduled within the coming weeks and the target date for completion is March 2024.

“The impact will greatly meet a historical need to have this one-stop shop of cancer services close to home in Prince George’s County,” said Sarah Larson, the senior director of oncology at the hospital. “Prince George’s County has some of the highest rates of cancer mortalities and cancer incidences, particularly among African Americans.”

It’s actually the worst in the state, she said. Meanwhile, it’s the opposite in neighboring Montgomery County, which has easier access to hospitals and treatment centers that already exist in the county, as well as closer proximity to facilities in D.C.

“That gives them a huge advantage,” Larson said. “Prince George’s County is extremely fragmented when it comes to oncology services.”

When the new cancer treatment center is finished, the way county residents diagnosed with cancer are treated from beginning to end will be radically different.

“It’s a really special thing,” Larson said. “Imagine your loved one is diagnosed with cancer. It might take three to six weeks for them to schedule all of the right appointments. Medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, potentially surgical oncologists. That could take … three to six weeks. These are specialized providers from multi-disciplines. Instead of the patient chasing them down, the doctor is going to come to them in one clinic, in one setting, in one day.

“They might sit in that clinic for up to four hours waiting on all these different providers, but all in one day, they leave with a treatment plan,” Larson said.

In fact, patients won’t even have to travel far, with “an exam room attached to a consultation room.” That means you’ll get off the exam table with that flimsy, crinkly gown, and step into a living-room type setup with more comfortable furniture to hash out what is often a scary and uncomfortable conversation.

Larson also said that even if the new facility won’t open for two more years, the hospital is already aggressively starting screening programs aimed at detecting cancer early throughout the county. The focus early is on breast, lung, colorectal and prostate cancers.

“We’re coming into this at the right time,” Larson said. “We’re not going to sit on our hands for two years.

“When you have these types of interventions you immediately see increased awareness, greater likelihood to get screened,” and eventually, routine screenings. “Long-term outcomes will be decreased cancer incidences, decreased morbidities, and decreased health care disparities,” she said.

Included in the $216 million proposal would be money for the following:

  • $100 million for the Greenebaum Cancer Center in Baltimore. The money would expand the University of Maryland Medical System’s Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center to provide state-of-the-art inpatient and outpatient cancer services. The center treates about 3,000 new patients a year.
  • $25 million for the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins University, both in Baltimore, to accelerate cancer research projects.
  • $1 million to expand pediatric cancer research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
  • $20.5 million for the Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund to help develop groundbreaking treatments.
  • $2.5 million to the Maryland Tech Council for the BioHub Maryland Initiative to expand the state’s life sciences and biotechnology research workforce.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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