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Sharp Health News

Elevating the level of care for brain cancer

Sept. 24, 2015

Neuro oncology center

It took the life of Vice President Joe Biden's son, Beau, at age 46. Former President Jimmy Carter also fought it.. 

Brain cancer is one of the most debilitating and lethal cancers in adults. With a five-year survival rate around 35 percent for primary brain tumors — ones that begin in the brain — care for patients facing this disease must be highly specialized.  

Sharp HealthCare is helping to redefine the level of care in the San Diego region for people with brain cancer. The new Laurel Amtower Cancer Institute and Neuro-Oncology Center offers patients timely, personalized care by an integrated team of experts. It is the first program of its kind in the region to be based at a community hospital.

The program launched with a $5.7 million donation by the Amtower family in honor of their daughter, Laurel, an admired San Diego State University English professor who died from brain cancer in 2010. She was 44.

At the center, patients have access to the latest technology to diagnose and treat tumors, as well as cutting-edge clinical trials and research. And because every day matters when fighting brain cancer, patients are seen and evaluated by a doctor within 48 hours of an appointment request.

“It is incredibly challenging to treat tumors in the central nervous system, so expediting care and tailoring it to each patient is crucial,” says Dr. Charles Redfern, medical director of the new center. “The Neuro-Oncology Center provides an unparalleled opportunity for physicians to work side by side to give our patients the best chance of fighting these diseases.”

Nearly 78,000 new cases of primary brain tumors are expected to be diagnosed this year, according to the American Brain Tumor Association. This figure includes nearly 25,000 primary malignant and 53,000 non-malignant brain tumors. Both cancerous and non-cancerous tumors are considered dangerous because they can press on sensitive areas of the brain or spine.

The Neuro-Oncology Center brings together a multidisciplinary team of doctors with expertise in all types of brain cancer. These physicians — ranging from neurosurgeons and neurologists to oncologists and neuropathologists — meet frequently to review patient cases and collaborate on treatment plans.

The center also offers a full spectrum of coordinated support care services to help patients and their loved ones cope with the emotional aspects of their diagnosis. These include guidance through treatment from nurse navigators, counseling by licensed clinical social workers with expertise in cancer care, support groups, education and more.

“Brain cancer may be the most difficult challenge that our patients and their loved ones will ever face,” says Cara Allen, a licensed clinical social worker at the center. “We want to be there for our patients every step of the way.”

For the news media: To talk with Dr. Redfern about brain cancer or the Laurel Amtower Cancer Institute and Neuro-Oncology Center for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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