Durham County

Duke is a leader in tackling cancer. A new $88 million facility would make it better.

The Duke University Health System has asked state regulators for permission to build an $88 million cancer-treatment therapy center off Erwin Road next to the Lenox Baker Children’s Hospital.

It would offer “proton therapy,” a more-precise variant of radiation treatment that physicians have found useful in treating tumors in particularly sensitive areas like the brain or the spine. But before they can go ahead, Duke Health officials need a “certificate of need” from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

The department’s scheduled a public hearing on the project for Oct. 10, at 11 a.m. They’ll hold it on the state’s Dorothea Dix campus, in Conference Room 026 of the Edgerton Building at 809 Ruggles Drive in Raleigh.

Duke officials declined an interview request.

“Given the preliminary nature of this request, there is no more detail to share than what is already outlined and contained in the [certificate of need] application,” Duke Health spokeswoman Samiha Khanna said.

State records show that UNC Hospitals has also sought permission to acquire proton-therapy gear. That would cost it $39 million and equip the N.C. Cancer Hospital in Chapel Hill. Health and Human Services officials held a hearing in August and have yet to rule on the application.

The certificate of need process has been a fixture of health-care regulation in North Carolina for years, on the theory that the state needs to keep a rein on hospital capital expenses that could wind up inflating medical bills regardless of whether the market can sustain them.

Conservative groups like the raleigh-based John Locke Foundation have attacked them as an unnecessary constraint on the medical trade.

Ray Gronberg: 919-419-6648, @rcgronberg