Doctors in Emory University's Department of Radiation Oncology have installed a new radiation delivery system that speeds up treatment dramatically. The first patients treated will be men with prostate cancer, but the treatment can also be used for patients with head and neck cancers or brain tumors, says Walter Curran, MD, chairman of the department and chief medical officer of the Emory Winship Cancer Institute.
"The main advantage is faster treatment so the patient is not on the table for a long period of time," says Curran. "This helps with patient comfort as well as minimizing the chance of movement, which affects accuracy during treatment." Treatments that once took between five and 10 minutes can be finished in less than two minutes, notes Curran. This can make a significant difference for patients receiving radiation daily over several weeks. The new radiation delivery system is called RapidArc, made by Varian Medical Systems. It was approved in January by the FDA. Emory is the first facility in Georgia to offer RapidArc, with two systems at Emory University Hospital and one at Emory Crawford Long Hospital.
Together with precise imaging and technology that allows variation of the radiation beam's strength, RapidArc can help doctors avoid delicate organs close to a tumor. The system enables physicians to deliver a complete treatment with a single rotation of the treatment machine around the patient.
Treatment analyses have shown that the new system matches or exceeds the precision of conventional Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) systems and spares more healthy tissue surrounding the tumor. For prostate cancer, this means reducing the potential for damage to the bladder, the rectum and the seminal vesicles, and lowering the probability of incontinence or impotence, two potential side effects of radiation treatment.
"The establishment of this new capability means that Emory will be one of the most unique radiation therapy centers in the U.S. for prostate radiation therapy," says Tim Fox, PhD, director of medical physics at Emory. Fox notes that using the new technology in combination with existing systems such as IMRT, physicians can create a personalized therapy plan based on each patient's unique anatomy.