Cancer Care Centers – Healing through mindful design

Few words carry more profound impact than “you have cancer.” Life-changing, these words mark the beginning of an unparalleled journey for patients and their loved ones. With hopes of healing, much of a cancer patient’s journey is often spent at a cancer care center.

Cancer care centers provide life-saving medical monitoring, procedures, progress check-ups, treatments, clinical trials, and therapy in a comprehensive outpatient setting, all under one roof. The one-stop-shop aspect of these facilities helps streamline the care and treatment process, and in turn, ease some of the pain and anxiety that cancer patients experience. However, streamlining cancer treatment is only part of the equation when designing these next-level centers.

Considering the emotional distress, physical discomfort, and length of time most patients spend in treatment, the best care centers do more than simplify treatment visits—they help heal the whole patient.

Private cancer treatment areas at the United Memorial Medial Center in Batavia, NY.

A Delicate Balance

Physicians agree that health and wellness is a delicate balance of the mind, body and spirit; and medical professionals confirm that merely treating the biological aspects of a life-threatening disease is often not enough for healing. Having fully embraced this notion, our cancer center designs are mindfully executed to include space for state-of-the-art treatment and therapies, without sacrificing critical support for each patient’s emotional well-being.

Consult the Experts

Patients, their families, and survivors serve as the best resources for identifying what truly strengthens a cancer patient’s overall spirit during treatment. These unintentional experts place physical comfort, stress reduction, and feelings of peace and hope at the top of their wish lists while visiting care facilities. We take those desires seriously and use them as benchmarks for making every design decision.

A patient’s courageous journey begins with entry. Entries and exits should be bright, open and friendly to inspire hope as people walk into and out of treatment. They should elicit strong feelings of optimism, which can be achieved by incorporating large windows, vaulted ceilings and cascading lights.

Renderings of the light and spacious entryway at the FirstHealth of the Carolinas Cancer Center in Pinehurst, NC (currently under construction).

Upon arrival, visitors should be greeted with beautiful and welcoming waiting areas where they can comfortably rest and await next steps. These spaces are most effective when designed to include calming features like greenery and fireplaces as well as selective forms of entertainment like TV’s, books, puzzles and games.

Easily navigating from waiting areas to labs or treatment rooms is another key element that cannot be overlooked. The wayfinding and signage throughout a cancer center must be clear and affirming to help ease anxieties and provide seamless transitions. Strategic lighting and graphic selections are often used to achieve the level of clarity and direction that all visitors deserve.

Easy-to-find scheduling desks at the Cone Health Cancer Center at Alamance Regional in Burlington, NC.

Arguably most important are the areas dedicated to facilitating cancer treatment. These spaces must be designed with comfort in mind, which calls for broad reclining chairs to help patients relax, flexible layouts to accommodate requests for privacy, and intentional visuals and artwork to evoke peace and pleasure.

It also recommended to be vigilant in selecting clean, healthy materials for every square inch of these spaces. With weakened immune systems, no chances should be taken with the furniture, fixtures and equipment that patients are exposed to. This requires the avoidance of using all “worst in class” materials (ie. items on The Red List) is to ensure patients don’t come into contact with hazardous chemicals and elements that are known to pose serious risks to human health.

Renderings of the chemotherapy infusion space at the FirstHealth of the Carolinas Cancer Center in Pinehurst, NC (currently under construction).

Healing for the Whole Patient

“We are very cognizant of how our designs impact every person who steps foot inside these cancer centers—the patients, families, visitors, caregivers, medical staff—everyone,” said Molly Livingstone, NCIDQ, LEED AP, Associate and Interior Designer at CPL. “Keeping these individuals top of mind is how we make strategic design decisions that can successfully promote comfort, encourage healing, and help treat the whole patient.”

The effects of a cancer diagnosis are undoubtedly extraordinary. Patients and loved ones are forced to embark on a challenging journey exclusive to the disease; and the myriad of emotion and pain that a cancer diagnosis brings is often amplified in treatment. This makes it even more important to equip patients and their families with treatment centers that fully support their physical and emotional needs during this journey. Our stance is this: when a compassionate, patient-centered approach is applied through design, the whole patient can heal.


Helen works closely with project managers and Principals in Georgia and the Carolinas on regional marketing efforts. With nearly 20 years of marketing experience in the A/E/C industry, she is responsible for preparing written responses to RFPs/RFQs and facilitating business development efforts. Helen is also an active member of the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS).

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