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Fox Chase Cancer Center and Russian Cancer Center Forge Relationship

Russian signing

(from left to right) Fox Chase Cancer Center physicians Dr. Paul F. Engstrom, vice president of population science, and Dr. Robert C. Young, president, sign an agreement with Dr. Victoria Dvornichenko, chief of the Irkutsk Regional Oncology Center, to help improve cancer care in the Irkutsk region of Russia. 

PHILADELPHIA (November 6, 2000) -- When Russian oncologist Victoria Dvornichenko, M.D., Ph.D. arrived at Fox Chase Cancer Center on a Monday morning in early November, she had a mission: to forge an alliance that could significantly impact the care of cancer patients in her Siberian home of Irkutsk.

When Fox Chase Cancer Center oncologist Paul F. Engstrom, M.D. agreed to help his Russian colleague at their first meeting in the fall of 1999, he intended to keep his word.

Together, these two dedicated cancer fighters have orchestrated a relationship that could create measurable improvements in the treatment of thousands of Russian cancer patients. To solidify their union, Fox Chase Cancer Center and the Irkutsk Regional Oncology Center have entered into an agreement, which outlines the goals of the relationship.

Russian Doctors

(from left to right) Galina Kalinaeva, United Nations Development Program advisor; Dr. Victoria Dvornichenko, chief of Irkutsk Regional Oncology Center; Dr. Leonid Khashitnev, medical director of Irkutsk Regional Oncology Center; and Dr. Paul F. Engstrom, vice president of population science at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

Dr. Dvornichenko is the director of the Irkutsk Regional Oncology Center and also serves as the government-appointed chief oncologist for the entire region. Irkutsk is home to about 750,000 residents with more than three million people living in the surrounding area. The city is located on the Angara River at the midpoint of the Trans Siberian Railway. Irkutsk is a center for gold prospecting, coal mining, fur trading and hydroelectric power. It is about 50 miles east of Lake Baikal, the world's deepest lake.

The cancer center is not as picturesque as its surroundings. Construction on the Irkutsk Regional Oncology Center began in the mid-'60s and was completed in 1967.

"The hospital reminded me of a U.S. facility in the 1920s because of the narrow halls, very thick walls and small rooms," Dr. Engstrom said about his first trip to Irkutsk in May of 2000. "The operating room facilities are comparable to those in the 1950s in the United States."

The hospital was originally built to house 100 patients. It now provides services for 367 inpatients and is overcrowded with patients and relatives waiting in the hallways.

Dr. Dvornichenko has been planning since 1986 to build a new 450-bed facility with 10 operating rooms and a boarding house for visiting patients.

"It was obvious that my first visit was intended to have an impact on the governmental leaders in the region," explained Dr. Engstrom. "We met with several government officials and expressed concerns regarding the great need for a more modern cancer center."

Their efforts have paid off.

"I'm happy to report that the new outpatient department of the new center will be opened in within a year," Dr. Dvornichenko announced with pride.

But Dr. Dvornichenko's vision extends beyond bricks and mortar.

She explained that the agreement with Fox Chase Cancer Center will dramatically affect her region. "The educational component is very important to this agreement. What Fox Chase physicians can show us is invaluable. We have the opportunity to teach dozens of oncologists in this region and that means thousands of cancer patients will benefit."

In addition to Dr. Engstrom's pair of visits, other Fox Chase physicians have visited Irkutsk. John A. Ridge, M.D., Ph.D., chief of head and neck surgery at Fox Chase, spent three days in October teaching new surgical techniques to Russian oncologists.

"Dr. Ridge was very enthusiastic about the level of commitment they saw in Irkutsk," commented Dr. Engstrom.

"The doctors and nurses worked incredibly hard just to provide basic medical care for the patients," Dr. Ridge said. "The dedication of these doctors is amazing. The surgeons are twice as busy as we are, working without our modern technology, and still, they work with enthusiasm, not despair."

"Taking our skills to Irkutsk allowed us to conduct hands-on training," Dr. Ridge added. "Because of licensing requirements in the U.S., that type of training could not be achieved here."

Hospital Room

A hospital room inside the Irkutsk Regional Oncology Center. The linens are brought from home by the patients' families. 

During her recent trip to Fox Chase, Dr. Dvornichenko met once again with the physician leadership at Fox Chase and once again, the surgeons pledged their support to the joint program.

"After just one conversation with the urologic surgeon, I can already identify advances we could learn that would improve the ways we are currently doing things," Dr. Dvornichenko pointed out. "Our physicians and our new oncologists could benefit from the advancements that have been made in this area."

Another of Dr. Dvornichenko's goals is training researchers. Most graduates of Irkutsk Medical School currently train locally in the cancer center.

"We hope that Fox Chase will help train some of our post-doctoral basic researchers in Philadelphia," said Dr. Dvornichenko. "We hope to obtain grants that will pay for these students to receive this kind of excellent training. Then when they return, they will bring their expertise back to Irkutsk to help further research in our hospital's labs."

Another goal for Dr. Dvornichenko is to develop the Irkutsk Cancer Society to be modeled after the American Cancer Society. According to the Irkutsk doctors, about 7,000 new cancer cases are reported each year in their region.

"We need to teach the people of this region about cancer prevention and the value of early detection," explained Dr. Dvornichenko.

"The American Cancer Society has provided an enormous amount of information that we can adopt for Russians. We were so impressed with the incredible volunteer program and we hope to shape a similar program in Irkutsk."

Dr. Dvornichenko has already chosen the first leader of the Irkutsk Cancer Society. She hopes to open the first office in March.

"I credit Fox Chase as the catalyst to this project," Dr. Dvornichenko said.

Russian Doctor

Radiation physicist Raj Mitra, Ph.D., shows Dr. Victoria Dvornichenko state-of-the-art radiation therapy technology used at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

Since the beginning of this invaluable relationship, each oncologist has recognized the challenges but also the benefits of creating an international partnership. The November 6th signing of the agreement between the two institutions will now be followed by a visit by Russian physicians to Fox Chase in January.

Later next Spring, Fox Chase doctors will again travel to Russia.

"We are planning to go to Irkutsk to give lectures and teach several courses," said Dr. Engstrom. "We're also exploring telemedicine so that we can review cases with our colleagues."

Before departing, Dr. Dvornichenko said to Dr. Engstrom, "If you will take us under your big wing, you can tremendously help our physicians and patients."

Fox Chase Cancer Center, one of the nation's first comprehensive cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute in 1974, conducts basic and clinical research; programs of prevention, detection and treatment of cancer; and community outreach. For more information about Fox Chase activities, visit the Center's web site at

Fox Chase Cancer Center, part of the Temple University Health System, is one of the leading cancer research and treatment centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence four consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach.  For more information, call 1-888-FOX CHASE or (1-888-369-2427).

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