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Members of the public visit the new Porter Regional Hospital Cancer Care Center on Wednesday in Valparaiso.

VALPARAISO — Porter Regional Hospital unveiled its "comprehensive" Cancer Care Center at an open house in Valparaiso on Wednesday, with officials touting that the facility will allow local residents to remain in the Region for their oncology treatment.

"I'm a cancer survivor. I think this is probably the finest medical addition in Porter County," said Rex Richards, president of the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce. "There is no reason why anyone in our area would have to go to Chicago. They can stay right here in Porter County for their health care."

Dr. Omar Barakat, an interventional radiologist with Porter Regional, said the center can treat a wide range of cancers, from kidney to liver, breast to lung, thanks in part to the purchase of a new PET/CT scan diagnostic machine. He said the device is large enough to treat all body types and people who are claustrophobic, and precise enough to find hard-to-detect tumors, like those in the prostate.

He added that the center can now do "extremely advanced procedures that patients used to have to go to a big city for."

Northwest Indiana hospitals are increasingly investing in their oncology care, as cancer diagnoses are on the rise, in part because of the aging population. At the same time, because of advances in treatment, people are more likely to survive the disease and live with it longer nowadays.

Sean Dardeau, market CEO for Porter Health Care System, said the recent addition of a brain surgeon was a big development, allowing the hospital to have that service for the first time in years.

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"We can now treat cranial tumors at our center that used to have to be treated in Chicago," Dardeau said.

He said the hospital plans to continue expanding the center's offerings, in the hopes of "making a terrible experience as good as it can be." "I see a lot of growth coming," he said.

The facility also offers such services as infusion treatments, immunotherapy and oncology navigation.

Dr. Jeffrey Quackenbush, a radiation oncologist with Porter Regional, said "one of the best decisions" the hospital ever made was moving all of its oncology care into one location, at the campus's medical plaza, improving convenience for patients and collaboration among the physicians.

"We have every type of specialist we need to treat every type of cancer," he said. "Now I think we truly have a comprehensive cancer center."

Noted Dr. Tareq Braik, a medical oncologist and hematologist with Porter Regional: "We now can detect cancer early, treat cancer effectively and manage the side effects so that the quality of life of patients is much better than before."

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Health Reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.