Picture this: You are diagnosed with cancer and not only do you have to process your new diagnosis, but you also have to choose when and where you will begin treatment. You discuss with your doctor, search your web browser for ‘cancer treatment near me,’ talk to family and friends, and try to sort through the endless options for treatments and hospitals. And then it turns out the best option you have is unfortunately far away.
That scenario is similar to the experience of Brian Rump, a husband, grandparent, and cancer patient who lives in Lebanon, PA—at first. He received a diagnosis of lymphoma, a cancer of the blood, and received several treatments including an allogeneic stem cell transplant in 2019. After the procedure, he followed up with blood cancer specialists at the Hospital of University of Pennsylvania (HUP), the only location in the Penn Medicine system where a specific type of post-allogeneic stem cell transplant care was available.
After finishing his post-transplant care, Rump continued to travel almost 90 miles each way back and forth from Lebanon to Philadelphia to receive monthly intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) treatments, with the goal of helping his compromised immune system continue to fight off the cancer.
“That’s a lot in gas money and tolls,” said Rump.
To help Rump receive his treatment without having to travel a far distance, Daniel Landsburg, MD, his new lymphoma specialist, recommended he continue his IVIG treatments at the Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute (ABBCI). ABBCI was only a 40-minute drive from Rump’s home in Lebanon, PA.
Starting in 2022, Brian began his IVIG treatments and continued with an oral medication with hematologist/oncologist Matthew Brennan, MD, at ABBCI. When scans in March 2023 showed worsening of his lymphoma, Rump’s care team decided CAR T cell therapy, a treatment developed through research at Penn Medicine and led by Timothy Beer, MD, at ABBCI, would be the best next step.
Advanced Cancer Care Closer to Home
ABBCI has become a destination for cancer treatment in a manner that is otherwise only typical of academic medical centers. It is the only non-academic, community hospital offering CAR T services and the first community hospital in the world to offer the newest generation of proton therapy machines, as well as advanced surgical procedures.
Since the opening of the cancer center 10 years ago in 2013, the ABBCI cancer program’s patient population has tripled in size, has received a delegation from the National Cancer Institute, and received a cancer moonshot delegation from The White House. The White House Cancer Moonshot program focuses on the biggest cancer research hospitals and the federal agencies that support them; ABBCI at LG Health is the only community hospital included in the program.
In the first few years of the Moonshot program during the Obama administration, Nikolas Buescher, executive director of ABBCI, was invited to represent ABBCI at the first Cancer Moonshot kickoff event in Washington D.C., White House officials visited ABBCI, and a delegation staff from ABBCI later attended a meeting at the White House devoted to improving cancer care.
“We were the first community hospital in the world to adopt these cutting-edge advancements which have helped to recruit top scientists, technicians, and doctors from all over the United States to work here in Lancaster,” said Buescher.
“For the past 50 years, so much of cancer care has been incremental change; however proton therapy and CAR T is transformational,” said Buescher.
CAR T cell therapy engineers a patients’ own immune system to recognize and attack the diseased cancer cells, and does not affect the healthy cells, omitting the side effects of traditional chemotherapy. CAR T cell therapy is remarkably successful for blood cancers like leukemia and lymphomas.
Penn Medicine was the first to develop CAR T cell therapies and continues to lead the field in research and clinical trials. In 2017, the FDA approved CAR T immunotherapy, and now, six years later, there are six different types of CAR T cell therapies approved to treat various types of blood cancers.
With CAR T and proton therapy, ABBCI is opening the door for patients to access advanced cancer care even in community hospital settings more accessible to their homes than academic centers. ABBCI is part of Penn Medicine’s larger cancer care system including the Abramson Cancer Center, where the aim is to offer patients the multidisciplinary cancer care they need anywhere they connect with Penn Medicine. At ABBCI and other Penn Medicine locations, patients receive care from subspecialist teams with expertise in their particular cancer type—including leading experts from Philadelphia for certain cancer types.
These offerings have made ABBCI both a convenient location and a destination for advanced care within central Pennsylvania, more accessible than Philadelphia. A cancer patient receiving traditional chemotherapy at ABBCI travels an average of 11 miles. Proton therapy patients at ABBCI travel an average of 39 miles—some patients traveling from western Pennsylvania or the northern part of the state.
“Patients in Lancaster are aware of these cutting-edge therapies, and they want to get them close to home.” Buescher continued.
For ABBCI patient Brian Rump, CAR T is giving him hope that treatment will be successful.
“Brian had his cell infusion in early May 2023 and as of this summer he has had a complete response and is doing well,” said Annie Lattanzio-Hale, MSN, RN, OCN, ONN-CG, oncology nurse navigator at ABBCI. “Brian is a great guy with a supportive wife and three daughters and we are so happy that he is able to spend time with his family and cheer on his favorite Penn State Nittany Lions this fall.”
A cancer diagnosis affects all areas of a patient’s life, and ABBCI provides a full care team to assist patients with the emotional, spiritual, and financial side effects of treatment. For example, ABBCI is one of the first facilities to offer financial counselors. When patients have financial counselors they stick with their treatment longer, have less debt, and the hospitals have fewer unpaid bills. Patients at ABBCI can also draw on psychologists, geneticists, and well-being specialists to aid in their cancer journey.
“The fact that the whole team is talking to each other about a patient’s care is quite rare,” said Buescher. “That’s what made the cancer care alignment with Penn Medicine and Lancaster General Health very natural—we have a similar design and motivation. Our ultimate goal is to preserve the cohesiveness and personality of a community hospital while also being connected to the resources of a larger, academic medical center like Penn.”
Celebrating 10 Years
In July 2023, the ABBCI team held a celebration to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the cancer center with remarks from health system leaders, a perspective from a community partner and patient, and live music. A key message of the celebration was the continuous addition of new therapies including CAR T, proton therapy, immunotherapy, and clinical trials. The expansion of these advanced treatments and research for patients in Lancaster have all accelerated due to the center being part of Penn Medicine—where the Abramson Cancer Center also celebrates a milestone anniversary, its 50th, this year.
“I’ve had a great experience at ABBCI—the treatment has been quick and the staff is extremely kind,” said Rump. “I’m in it to win it with my cancer treatment and I know my care team at ABBCI will be with me every step of the way.”