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Monte Martin, MD, medical director, Flaget Cancer Center in Bardstown.

BARDSTOWN According to the American Cancer Society, there will be nearly 26,000 new cancer cases in Kentucky in 2018. Many of these occur in rural communities, which previously did not offer full cancer care and thus required patients to drive long distances to acquire treatment. The Flaget Cancer Center, a part of the Kentucky One Health network, is making it possible to get complete care close to home. Located in Bardstown, the community-based center serves the populations of six counties, including Washington, Nelson, Spencer, Hardin, Marion, and Bullitt.

At the helm is medical director, Monte Martin, MD, who is board certified in internal medicine, hematology, and medical oncology. Martin received his medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine in Granada, West Indies, and then went on to complete three years of training in internal medicine at the University of Louisville and a hematology/medical oncology fellowship at the Brown Cancer Center of Louisville.

Initially, Martin planned to be an internist, but was drawn to oncology after working in the Brown Cancer Center’s Bone Marrow Transplant Unit for a month. Martin says, “I realized that the patient you deal with on a day-to-day basis, who is dealing with cancer, is probably the most appreciative patient you’ll ever meet.”

Working in an environment such as the Flaget Cancer Center, which opened in 2010, allows this patient connection to be even greater. According to Martin, “In a setting such as ours, where you may treat only ten to twenty patients in a day, it’s very easy to get to know those patients on a first name basis and relate to them almost immediately.” He adds, “We are a full-service cancer center, here at Flaget, set up like a boutique. We are very small on purpose. We have a very small staff.”

“We are a full-service cancer center, here at Flaget, set up like a boutique. We are very small on purpose. We have a very small staff.”— Monte Martin, MD.

This staff includes a team of oncology-certified nurses and physicians who are capable of taking on different roles throughout the treatment process, promoting continuity of care. “In our setting everyone takes active responsibility for any question or concern the patients have,” says Martin.

Full Service in a Boutique Setting

Despite its boutique nature, the Flaget Cancer Center is truly a full-service facility covering all nine of the hematologic issues, as well as soft tissue malignancies and solid tumors. The center is also capable of treating melanomas, cutaneous t-cell lymphomas, mantle cell lymphomas, and certain types of leukemia. For Martin, this is part of the appeal. “I personally enjoy the fact that I get to treat all cancers and not just focus on one particular tumor type, which is what happens in very large practices. It allows me to keep myself fresh on everything.” He notes, however, “The majority of cases that we cover are still the common cancers, such as lung, breast, and colon.”

The Flaget Cancer Center offers innovations in diagnosing and treating each of these. Both medical and radiation oncology are located on site. Radiation treatment is delivered through the cutting-edge technology of the Elekta Synergy Machine, a fully-digital linear accelerator that targets tumors more precisely by using imaging during treatment. The center also offers 3-D mammography, which decreases the risk of false positives, as well as stereotactic breast biopsy, a much less invasive procedure in which a sample of suspect breast tissue is precisely located with a computer-guided imaging system and removed with a needle.

Few communities need these advancements more. CBS News recently ranked Kentucky as the “#1 Deadliest State” when it comes to cancer, and the Bardstown-area has one of the higher incidences, especially of lung cancer. Martin states, “Unfortunately, in Kentucky, we’re really good at some things other than basketball. We are also highly ranked in rates of smoking and obesity.” He elaborates, “Fifty percent of all new cancers diagnosed this year will be related to obesity and smoking.”

Breakthroughs in treatment, including oral-based therapies, are making it easier to treat these cancers right at Flaget. Martin states, “With the advent of the molecular-targeted therapies and chemotherapy, we have been able to move away from large teaching facilities to incorporating treatments into the outpatient oncology setting.”

As for the future, Martin is optimistic. “I suspect, in the future, we won’t classify things based on the anatomical location of the tumor, but on the genetic characteristics of its make-up. And, we will direct therapies based on those parameters.” He is also pleased with the improvements in chemotherapy, which is now outpatient and much better tolerated, with nausea and vomiting being far less severe. This allows the patient to maintain a greater quality of life during treatment. And, patient satisfaction is the ultimate goal.

So, though the Flaget Cancer Center will continue to pioneer and progress, its mission will remain to be a medical facility where patients are remembered and recognized as individuals from day one. In Martin’s words, “It is neighbors treating neighbors.”