New hematologist/oncologist joins MHSC
Dr. Banu Symington returns to Sweetwater County
ROCK SPRINGS – Dr. Banu Symington wants area residents to know they don’t have to leave southwestern Wyoming to receive excellent cancer treatment.
Symington joined the Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County staff Feb. 1, working as a hematologist/oncologist. Hematology is the study of blood disorders such as leukemia and sickle cell anemia. Oncology is the study of cancer.
Symington will be working at Sweetwater Regional Cancer Center with radiation oncologist Dr. Zachary Nicholas and the health care team that now provides cancer treatment at the state-of-the-art facility at the 1180 College Drive location.
“We are excited to have her experience, with her deep-seated roots in this community,” Nicholas said.
CEO Irene Richardson agreed.
“Dr. Symington rounds out our amazing Cancer Center team,” Richardson said. “The Cancer Center and our patients will benefit greatly from her extensive knowledge and commitment to wellness and treatment.
“We are thrilled to have her back,” Richardson said.
Symington worked for MHSC as an internist and hematologist/oncologist from 1995 to 2004. She then worked as a hematologist/oncologist for Mountain States Tumor Institute-St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center in Twin Falls, Idaho.
Sweetwater Regional Cancer Center “is bright and airy, state of the art, wonderful,” she said. “I might not have left if it had been here in 2004.”
Now that she’s back, Symington wants to increase community awareness of the care Sweetwater Regional Cancer Center has to offer. Symington wants to work with southwestern Wyoming residents and local doctors to make sure patients no longer need to travel long distances outside of Sweetwater County for treatment.
Symington also wants to help the facility earn accreditation as a center for clinical trials through an organization like SWOG (formerly the Southwest Oncology Group), a group that is supported by the National Cancer Institute and one that conducts clinical trials in adult cancers. Symington is a member of several SWOG committees and has collaborated with Huntsman Cancer Institute physicians since 1996. Sweetwater Cancer Center is an affiliate of Salt Lake City-based Huntsman.
Earlier in her career, Symington worked as a staff scientist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, both in Seattle. She has won numerous research and clinical investigator awards.
“Everything we know now about the treatment of cancer is because of clinical trials,” Symington said. “Participation in clinical trials is the most selfless and empowering thing a cancer patient can do.”
She was involved in clinical trials that showed:
• Longer duration of Tamoxifen improves survival in ER (estrogen receptors) positive breast cancer
• The use of Herceptin improves survival in HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) expressing breast cancer
• Six cycles of FOLFOX (Folinic acid, fluorouracil and oxaliplatin) are as good as 12 for some colon cancer patients.
• Survival in melanoma can be prolonged with Ipilumimab.
“Prevention is the most important component of treatment, and much overlooked,” Symington said. “I plan to engage the community in prevention.
“Once you have cancer, we are a team, fighting the cancer together. As long as you remain well enough to tolerate continuing treatment, I will look for additional therapies for you, including investigational treatments.”
While at St. Luke’s, she served as chairwoman of the Medical Executive Committee, the Credentials Committee and the Oversight Committee. She is an advocate of quality measures and performance improvement. During her tenure as chief of staff, hand hygiene improved from 70 percent to 96 percent across the board and from 64 percent to 89 percent among physicians.
She is passionate about cancer prevention through HPV vaccination and is a member of the Intermountain West HPV Immunization Coalition. She also spearheaded efforts to make HPV vaccination a quality measure as part of St. Luke’s Population Health Initiative. In 2017, she was appointed Master of the American College of Physicians for her patient advocacy.
What lured her back to Rock Springs?
“The people, the wide open spaces and the abundant rocks,” she said, adding that she loves the outdoors, rock hunting, gardening and rescuing dogs, particularly teacup breeds.