Though services and options for treatment have existed for years, many Alaskans still decide to head out of state for treatment of childhood cancers. Now, families may be able to stay closer to home.

Alaska Pediatric Oncology, a private practice specializing in childhood cancer, opened in Anchorage last month. It's the first of its kind in the state.

The practice’s medical team — Dr. Shannon Norman, Dr. Brenda Wittman, Dr. Laura Schulz and nurse practitioner Ronda Nakoa — used to work at Providence Medical Group Pediatric Hematology and Oncology before making the move to the private sector.

“With the same providers and the same high-level of care, the new clinic ensures a smooth transition for patients and families,” a press release announcing the opening said.

Dr. Schulz has been in Alaska nearly 14 years. She grew up in Ohio and completed her medical training in Colorado, so she understands the effects distance can have.

"Just the trauma of having to leave home generally really quickly. When a child's diagnosed with cancer we typically recommend they start on treatment within days,” she said. “So if that can't be done in Alaska that means the family has to pick a new center and get themselves there ready to get treatment within 48 hours, sometimes which is really rough."

The group will see about 35–40 kids a year from all over the state. If treatment outside the state is the best approach, they say they can help steer the patient in the right direction. The practice will work in close collaboration with Alaska Pediatric Surgery, which the release says offers a comprehensive team of specialists solely dedicated to pediatrics.

"We have lots of lots of contacts nationwide and we're generally able to help families find a point of contact and get them settled in a new center before they start treatment even if we're not able to provide the care here,” Dr. Schulz said.

Dr. Schulz says leukemia is the most common form of cancer they see in kids and it's very curable — at least two out of three patients survive the fight.

Alaska Pediatric Oncology are currently seeing patients at Providence Alaska Medical Center, Alaska Native Medical Center in addition to its office. For more information, visit their website or call 907-929-3773.

Correction: This story has been edited to correct when Alaska Pediatric Oncology opened.

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