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Fairfax may soon be home to a major cancer treatment center on par with those located near medical schools around the country.

Last month, the Inova Governance Board voted to develop the Inova Comprehensive Cancer and Research Institute, intended to be the largest cancer treatment facility in the greater Washington, D.C. area. The new seven-story facility will be located on Inova’s Fairfax campus and construction is planned for 2014.

Northern Virginia is projected to see an increase in cancer rates in the coming years as the population begins to age, said Susan Carroll, vice president of oncology services for Inova.

“The No. 1 risk factor for cancer is your age,” she said.

While cancer treatment is already available throughout the Inova system and its competitor in the region, Northern Virginia does not yet have the sort of comprehensive center that Inova is planning. The facility will incorporate research and will be supported by the work of the Inova Translational Medicine Institute, which focuses on genomics.

“We believe putting research right next to patient care really enables us to get that research to the patient faster,” Carroll said.

Recent advances in genetic testing and identifying differences in cancer types “enables us to develop treatment and care plans that are much more tailored to the patient,” Carroll said.

In addition to serving local residents, Inova hopes the cancer center will become a “destination cancer center,” specializing in rare and complex cancers, Carroll said. Cancer treatment will still be available throughout the Inova system,so patients can get more routine treatments at a location in their community.

Attracting top medical researchers will be key in making Inova’s new facility stand out among its many competitors, said Emanuel “Chip” Petricoin III, co-director of George Mason University’s Center for Applied Protomeotics and Molecular Medicine.

“It’s not like there are no cancer treatment centers in the area,” he said, noting that many people in the area who need specialized treatment now go to Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, considered one of the best cancer treatment centers in the country.

The biggest trend in cancer treatment now is the increase in the availability of more advanced treatments at the community level, Petricoin said.

“You could now have your private practice doctor order the same tests that a few years ago the head of oncology at a hospital would have to order,” he said. “They’re going to be fighting that trend.”

Carroll said that the trend of bringing newer treatments into community hospitals actually supports the need for Inova’s plans for comprehensive cancer treatment, as there is no longer a need for someone to travel to a big university to get advanced care.

At the end of the day, Petricoin said, patients are the winners with Inova’s announcement. The “comprehensive cancer center” designation the hospital is pursuing indicates a strong commitment to research and care that is well-integrated throughout the hospital system, he said.

“From a patient perspective, there is nothing not to like because it gives them another choice,” he said.

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com