Leading the way in cancer care

October 18, 2023
Dr. Richard Van Etten, director of the UCI Health Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, wears a hard hat during a visit to the new cancer center under construction in Irvine.

When it opens in summer 2024, the new UCI Health Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and Ambulatory Care building in Irvine "will be the ultimate in state-of-the art cancer care on the West Coast,” said Dr. Richard A. Van Etten after a recent tour of the construction site. Photo by Jared Novakovich


When the UCI Health Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center opens its second clinical hub next summer, it will triple the space available to deliver the region’s most advanced care.

“This will be huge for patients,” said Richard Van Etten, MD, PhD, director of the cancer center and associate vice chancellor at the Susan and Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences. “It will expand access to the latest in cancer care, clinical trials and research, and bring it all closer to people living in coastal and southern Orange County.”

The existing Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center based in Orange County, already serves more cancer patients and offers more clinical trials, especially novel early-phase studies, than any other healthcare provider in the region.

About a third of its patients come from Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. A key reason is expertise.

“Cancer isn’t one disease, it’s about 150 different ones, and each is completely different in terms of its causes, detection and treatment,” said Van Etten, MD, PhD, a UCI professor of medicine and the Chao Family Endowed Chair for Cancer Research and Treatment. “We have true experts in all types of cancer, which allows us to be absolutely the most up-to-date on the latest research and technologies.”

The ultimate in cancer care

The new center, called the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and Ambulatory Care building, will be part of UCI Health — Irvine, a $1.3 billion medical complex under construction at the northern edge of the UCI campus.

When it opens in summer 2024, “It will have everything,” Van Etten said after a recent visit to the construction site. “It will be the ultimate in state-of-the art cancer care on the West Coast.”

It will offer patient-centered radiation oncology therapies and the most advanced imaging services, all under one roof, plus 40 infusion stations, eight outpatient surgical suites and a state-of-the art women’s breast health center.

It will also ease a space crunch at the existing cancer center in Orange and its four satellite clinical locations, where outpatient visits now exceed 80,000 a year and almost 65,000 cancer infusion treatments are performed annually.

'True multidisciplinary care'

At least 30 new cancer specialists are being recruited for the Irvine center. When an adjacent 144-bed acute care hospital opens in 2025, Van Etten said patients who need hospitalization can be “seamlessly cared for in one location.”

The new hospital and the adjacent Joe C. Wen & Family Center for Advanced Care, opening in spring 2024, will permit true multidisciplinary cancer care, giving patients ready access to other specialists in infectious disease, gastroenterology, cardiology, kidney disease, pulmonary medicine and other disciplines.

“Cancer patients can develop problems affecting nearly every organ system,” Van Etten explained. “UCI Health is uniquely positioned to treat the whole patient, including offering access to integrative medicine services at the nearby Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute.”

Equally important for the future of cancer care, Van Etten said, is its location on the UCI campus, which will foster even greater synergies between clinicians and the university’s basic scientists.

Fostering innovation

He noted that many of the cancer center’s researchers are on the cusp of breakthroughs that could redefine diagnosis and treatment for many cancers.

Neuroscientist Michael Demetriou, MD, PhD, for one, is working with the National Cancer Institute on a cancer-specific antigen that spares healthy cells.

“This has the potential to be a game changer because it targets only cancer cells and it may allow therapies like CAR T cells to be used against solid tumors for the first time,” Van Etten said.

Another scientist’s work promises to revolutionize cancer screening and perhaps radiotherapy. Physicist Christopher Barty, PhD, is working with the U.S. Department of Defense to build an X-ray machine that produces 100 times better images with less than 1/100th the amount of radiation. Lowering exposure to radiation means that procedures like mammograms and CT scans can be done more frequently.

“It completely changes the paradigm for diagnosing cancer, particularly where we lack effective screening methods, such as for pancreatic and ovarian cancers,” said Van Etten, who is eager to make use of the technology for research in the near future and eventually for clinical applications.

With over 400 active cancer clinical trials underway, including more than 140 early-phase trials and the latest in immunotherapies — more than any other provider in Orange County — the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center offers the newest treatments for patients who aren’t responding to standard therapies.

“Clinical trials are the only way we can move the ball forward and improve outcomes for patients with cancer,” Van Etten said.

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About UCI Health

UCI Health is the clinical enterprise of the University of California, Irvine, and the only academic health system in Orange County. Patients can access UCI Health at primary and specialty care offices across Orange County and at its main campus, UCI Medical Center in Orange, Calif. The 459-bed, acute care hospital, listed among America’s Best Hospitals by U.S. News & World Report for 23 consecutive years, provides tertiary and quaternary care, ambulatory and specialty medical clinics, behavioral health and rehabilitation services. UCI Medical Center is home to Orange County’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, high-risk perinatal/neonatal program and American College of Surgeons-verified Level I adult and Level II pediatric trauma center and regional burn center. UCI Health serves a region of nearly 4 million people in Orange County, western Riverside County and southeast Los Angeles County. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.

About UCI Health — Irvine

UCI Health — Irvine, a new medical complex under construction at the north end of the UC Irvine campus, will bring unparalleled expertise and the finest evidence-based care that only an academic medical system can offer to the communities of coastal and south Orange County.

As part of UCI Health — which includes the flagship UCI Medical Center in Orange, Orange County’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center and multiple outpatient care locations — the new 1.2 million-square-foot campus will offer key clinical programs in oncology, digestive health, neurology, neurosurgery, orthopedics and spine surgery.

The nation’s first all-electric, carbon-neutral medical center, UCI Health — Irvine will be home to:

  • The Joe C. Wen & Family UCI Health Center for Advanced Care, a five-story, 168,000-square-foot medical facility offering the full range of multidisciplinary specialty care for children and adults under a single roof, urgent care services, the Center for Children’s Health and the UCI Health Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders — Opening spring 2024
  • The Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and Ambulatory Care building, a five-story, 193,000-square-foot tower with 36 private exam rooms, 40 infusion bays and eight operating rooms — Opening 2024
  • A seven-story, 350,000-square-foot, acute care hospital with 144 inpatient beds, 10 operating suites and a 24-hour emergency department with 20 treatment rooms — Opening 2025