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Stereotactic radiation allows surgery without the knife for cancer patients


Dr. Changhu Chen is professor and chairman of radiation oncology at the University of Toledo Medical Center's Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center.

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This is one of a series of columns about health issues written by staff members of ProMedica, Mercy, Toledo Clinic, and the University of Toledo Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio.

In the past, when cancer spread or was in difficult locations to reach surgically it wasn't uncommon for a patient to hear, "I'm sorry, but there is nothing more we can do for you."

Thankfully, that phrase doesn't need to be uttered nearly as often with advances in oncology care.

Stereotactic radiosurgery is a growing non-invasive way to treat malignant tumors and is especially useful for metastatic disease, which is when the cancer spreads from one organ or part of the body to another.

This surgery without a knife uses high-dose, targeted radiation to obliterate the tumors.

Unlike traditional radiation that targets a region of the body with low-doses over a period of several weeks, this radiosurgery technique uses 10 times as much radiation narrowly focused specifically on only the tumor. This targeted approach can be completed with a single dose, but the technique calls for no more than five treatments, which can be over a single week's time.

Radiosurgery technology uses three or four-dimensional imaging to guide the experienced medical professionals to target only the cancer, meaning little harm to healthy tissue and little side effects or recovery time for the patient.

The University of Toledo Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center is the only facility in the region to offer this service with its Varian TrueBeam™ system and radiation oncology staff with years of experience. The technology enables more precise radiation delivery at a much faster rate than all conventional systems. This means treatment is shorter, more convenient and comfortable for patients.

Radiosurgery began as a way to primarily address difficult-to-access small tumors in the brain. Today, it is also used to address cancerous spots in other organs, such as the lungs, liver, spine, bones as well as other tissues almost anywhere in the body.

This "surgery without the surgery" also presents fewer opportunities for complications from traditional surgery, such as infection, pain, discomfort, and long recovery times. It is an outpatient procedure where the person often continues right on about their day.

Radiosurgery can be a sole treatment, or also used in conjunction with other cancer treatment such as chemotherapy. It can also be used to eradicate a reoccurring tumor that was previously addressed through traditional radiation therapy.

Radiosurgery, however, isn't for everyone. It is typically only performed on tumors less than 2 inches in size. And because of the high, concentrated amount of radiation used to treat each tumor, it isn't recommended for patients with more than five regions needing attention.

Since the Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center opened last year, more than 80 patients throughout the region have received radiosurgery treatments here in Toledo.

And this summer, UT's cancer center will become one of the first few locations in the world with the latest technology — the Edge Radiosurgery Suite from Varian Medical Systems. The new integrated technology will allow for the most advanced radiosurgery with real-time tumor tracking technology and motion management capabilities.

The addition of this dedicated suite used only for radiosurgery will give UT an edge to expand into a Radiosurgery Program that is truly multidisciplinary, involving all cancer specialists at the Dana Cancer Center to better take care of patients.

Not only does the Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center allow patients in the region the access to this type of medical treatment, but it also provides opportunities for patients from far away to be treated here at UTMC because radiosurgery is logistically convenient, with only one to five total treatment sessions. Radiosurgery is also proven to be effective, with the chance to locally control a tumor usually in the range of eighty to ninety percent.

Changhu Chen, M.D. is professor and chairman of radiation oncology at the University of Toledo Medical Center's Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center. For more information, go to​centers/​cancer.

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