New Radiation Oncologists Raise Kitsap’s Options for Cancer Care

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New Radiation Oncologists Raise Kitsap's Options for Cancer Care

New Radiation Oncologists Raise Kitsap's Options for Cancer Care

POULSBO — Radiation oncologists Berit Madsen and Alex Hsi know intimately the lengths cancer patients in Kitsap go through to get treatment.

The volume of cancer patients overwhelms the number of specialized cancer doctors in the county, they say, leading as many as half of the patients in Kitsap to choose to make regular trips to Tacoma and Seattle for weeks on end to get the treatment they need.

That’s as many as 750 patients a year.

“It’s a financial, physical and emotional burden,” Hsi said.

The pair of doctors are about to improve access by opening Peninsula Cancer Center in Poulsbo. Both, supported by a staff of seven, will offer radiation oncology. The center is already accepting patients, but will hold an open house and grand opening on Sept. 22.

The doctors’ arrival doubles the number of radiation oncologists in Kitsap County, and is being heralded as a major advance in making this type of cancer treatment available to more patients locally.

The only other two radiation oncologists work out of Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton.

“For many years, there was just one person doing it,” said Dr. Brian Wicks, president of The Doctors Clinic. “It’s an exciting development in Poulsbo.”

And for many cancer patients. Cancer survivor Ross Thornburgh knew the drill well.

To get to his weekly treatment sessions in Seattle, the Bainbridge Island resident — a patient of Madsen — would ride the ferry, then struggle up from Colman Dock to catch the No. 12 bus, which would take him close to Virginia Mason Medical Center.

If it waited for him.

Or, he would be left with the task of walking the nine vertical blocks from the ferry terminal, cutting through buildings and using escalators when he could.

“I was tired of the whole damn thing,” said Thornburgh, now 79 and cancer-free.

Madsen and Hsi have invested $2.6 million in a state-of-the-art machine to deliver the treatment. Called the Elekta Synergy linear accelerator with VMAT (volumetric modulated arc therapy), it cuts the time radiation therapy is administered from 30 minutes to two minutes. It is the only linear accelerator with the reduced time available locally.

“To be still for two minutes is a lot easier than 30 minutes,” Hsi said.

Harrison has the other two linear accelerators in the county.

A linear accelerator delivers uniform doses of X-rays to a patient’s tumor, destroying cancer cells while sparing nearby healthy cells.

In addition, Madsen and Hsi have invested in a electromagnetic transponder system that precisely pinpoints targets to receive radiation. Madsen explained that the technology is akin to how global-position devices find geographic locations.

Madsen, who lives on Bainbridge Island, and Hsi, a Seattleite, are at the top of their profession. At different times, both served as head of radiation oncology at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle.

The pair worked side by side for a decade at Virginia Mason, but left to offer radiation therapy here.

“It’s been a huge dream for all of us,” Matsen said. “It feels very good.”

Radiation oncology is one of three areas of cancer treatment. The other two are surgery and chemotherapy. Harrison Medical Center recently added two medical oncologists offering chemotherapy in Poulsbo. There are five medical oncologists in Kitsap County.

“We consider our center complementary and additive to what they’ve done,” Hsi said of the Harrison cancer team in Poulsbo.

Thornburgh, the Bainbridge Islander who survived colon cancer that spread, is glad his former oncologist and Hsi are offering more radiation oncology locally, and hopes they get the business they’re expecting.

As for him weathering all those trips up the hill to Virginia Mason, he said he always rewarded himself afterward with a plate of fried oysters at McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurant on First Avenue before boarding the ferry home.

“That was the routine, and I can see where Berit is satisfying a need,” he said.


Peninsula Cancer Center of Poulsbo will host an open house from 4 to 8 p.m. Sept. 22. The facility that will offer state-of-the-art radiation therapy is at 19917 Seventh Ave. in a building that also houses Liberty Bank. For more information, call the center at (360) 697-8000, e-mail or visit

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