Recent data from the National Cancer Institute shows amazing progress in several vital cancer-related areas. As cancer-related mortality is falling, so are actual diagnoses of the disease.
What this means is that the United States has now successfully identified some causes of cancer and we are making progress towards cancer prevention.
Additionally, the nation is making huge strides in cancer treatment, utilizing years of research and new technology to develop state of the art radiation therapies and treatments.
One relatively new form of radiation therapy, first used clinically in 2003, is called TomoTherapy, an innovative form of CT guided IMRT (or Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy).
The primary advantage to using TomoTherapy is its precise delivery of radiation to a cancerous tumor, while sparing the healthy tissue around it. The radiation sources encircle the patient and use a multi-leaf collimator, which allows the tumor to be targeted more precisely.
Because of this innovative technology, a radiation oncologist can treat areas that are difficult or impossible for other machines to reach, such as treating just the lining of the lung and not the lung itself, or taking on tumors on the edge of the spinal cord without risking damage to the spinal cord itself.
For more simple cases, such as breast cancer that has not metastasized, TomoTherapy may not be the best solution, because other methods can deliver the radiation safely while using much less time.
TomoTherapy’s primary benefit is for the most complicated tumor placements where the treatment time is a reasonable trade-off for precision and preserving of healthy tissue.
Before beginning any TomoTherapy treatment, the radiation oncologist will determine the precise topography of the tumor using complex, three dimensional imaging software. Using this image, he will determine the contours and intricacies of the tumor, which will help him determine the surface area, and thus allowing him to calculate the amount of radiation that is needed for each session as well as the acceptable levels for the surrounding areas.
The TomoTherapy planning station is then used to calculate the pattern, position, and intensity for the radiation to be delivered to the affected area. Precise positioning is imperative for effective radiation therapy, and because a patient’s position can change slightly from session to session it is necessary to take CT images of the patient before each session.
As times continue to change, there will probably be new and updated techniques available for radiation oncologists to use, many of them, perhaps, based on the TomoTherapy solutions that have been developed and continue to be useful tools in the fight against cancer.
Doctors and scientists are confident that there will be a cure for cancer in the coming years, but until then it is a comfort to know that advances are making it a battle that is easier to fight.
by Art Gib