Cancer care in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) used to be hard to come by. Qualified doctors and treatment centers mostly lived outside the islands, so residents had to travel to seek the care they needed. The result was a lot of late-stage diagnoses and a lack of cancer education for residents.
If you’ve ever supported a loved one through a cancer diagnosis or dealt with the disease personally, you’ll understand how long-distance travel to receive treatment adds to the burden of cancer care.
Dr. Peter Brett understands those challenges, emphasizing, “It’s hard enough to have cancer, but then they must travel far away for your care and go away for months at a time, it’s just very difficult.”.
After 27 years of specializing in oncology care in San Francisco, Dr. Peter Brett picked up his practice and relocated to Saipan in CNMI, to start a cancer care practice right there in the islands.
With Dr. Peter Brett’s help, there is now a cancer treatment center offering cancer care including regular treatments, preventive screening, and simple surgeries to the locals.
That means that cancer diagnoses can happen earlier, and there’s less travel and less of a burden on families to seek care.
The Oncology Center of Saipan offers a wide range of treatments, including chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted cancer treatment medicines. Some more complex procedures still require patients to be referred off the island, but much of the most important cancer care can be done right there in Saipan.
Being able to stay closer to home takes an enormous amount of stress off the patients, letting them stay with family and get the additional support they need during treatment. That alone makes a huge difference for people dealing with cancer, not just the patients, but also their friends and family.
But Dr. Peter Brett is doing more than just offering local cancer care in CNMI.
When Dr. Peter Brett arrived in Saipan he noticed that not only was cancer being diagnosed at later stages than in other areas, which reduces the chances of getting good outcomes but that the local population also had higher rates of cancer in general.
Why were the people of Saipan and CNMI dealing with cancer at such high rates?
Part of the issue was simply related to healthcare and the lack of preventive and screening services that existed before Dr. Brett started the Oncology Center of Saipan. But those challenges alone couldn’t explain the higher prevalence of cancer on the islands.
Dr. Peter Brett realized that a big part of the problem was that the people in CNMI didn’t have access to information about cancer, risk factors for developing cancer, and how certain lifestyle choices can increase the risk of cancer.
No one wants to get cancer. But one of the biggest challenges in the islands was a lack of awareness about how and why cancer happens in the first place.
That meant that offering cancer care wasn’t the only way Dr. Peter Brett could help Saipan and the larger CNMI community. There was no reason the CNMI community shouldn’t have access to information about cancer risk and how lifestyle choices can impact your personal risk of cancer.
To help address the lack of information in the islands, Dr. Peter Brett also started an information campaign to increase awareness in the local community. He focused on informing people about the added risk of cancer from alcohol, tobacco use, and chewing betel nut.
To get information directly to the community, he also started hosting live-streamed “Doc Talks” to answer questions about cancer, cancer screening, and how the community can be active participants in their own cancer care and prevention.
Dr. Peter Brett didn’t stop there.
One of the gaps in coverage was access to affordable cancer screening, which meant that people had little or no knowledge about their personal risk of cancer, or even what early signs and symptoms could indicate a problem.
So in addition to opening the Oncology Center of Saipan, which has grown to include several other providers including nurses, pharmacists, physician’s assistants, patient navigators, and financial navigators that support people in all stages of cancer diagnosis and treatment, he also launched the CARES program.
CARES stands for Cancer and Associated Risks Early Screening and offers free cancer screening services to CNMI residents. The program does charge insurance companies if the patient has insurance, but patients with no insurance have no cost. That means that everyone can get cancer screening care at no cost to them, and receive results from their testing within 3-4 months.
That’s a lot of added peace of mind, information about cancer and cancer prevention, and tools to help get cancer diagnosed earlier so that treatment outcomes are better.
There’s a lot of work to be done, but ever since Dr. Peter Brett arrived in Saipan in 2019, he’s proved that he’s up to the challenge and dedicated to making a big difference in CNMI cancer care and prevention.
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