Radiation therapy is often an essential part of cancer treatment. The latest radiation therapy technology is expanding treatment options for many patients, while improving results.
Main Line Health's sophisticated tools work seamlessly to treat cancer faster and, with more power and precision, in many cases allows shorter treatment times and fewer rounds of treatment as well as fewer side effects.
Here are three examples of state-of-the-art technologies that are offering patients the best possible outcomes at Main Line Health:
3D-printed skin molds
To ensure the photon beams used in radiation therapy reach a breast or skin cancer tumor while also protecting healthy tissue, radiation therapists typically place a flat sheet of gel-like material on the skin's surface. But this material doesn't shape well to a patient's contours, leaving air gaps that reduce the effective dose to tumors.
Main Line Health instead creates 3D-printed molds for each patient.
"These personalized molds are computer-generated and fit perfectly to each patient's body," says Linna Li, MD, chief of radiation oncology for Main Line Health. "We're the only provider in Pennsylvania and one of a few centers nationally to offer this technology."
Precision matters. That's why Bryn Mawr Hospital uses the most advanced radiotherapy system available for stereotactic ablative body radiation therapy (SABR or SBRT).
Varian Edge allows radiation oncologists to treat a tumor from many directions with pinpoint accuracy and in only three to five sessions compared with 20 to 40 with standard radiation therapy.
SBRT is often used for treating stage IV cancer when it has spread or metastasized to other organs or parts of the body.
"SBRT allows us to deliver submillimeter precise radiation to any metastatic disease," explains Dr. Li. "In our experience, more than 95% of stage IV patients have no side effects. When combined with immunotherapy, it effectively controls the tumor target over 95% of the time. Now there's ample research that shows SBRT can extend survival for patients with stage IV lung, prostate or breast cancer. For some patients, it may even cure their cancer, which is extremely exciting."
4D image guidance
Sometimes a tumor can be a moving target as the body's organs also move, such as during breathing. To counter this, Main Line Health uses 4D-imaging technology to capture a tumor's precise location at any given moment and to design radiation treatments that are delivered between breathing cycles.
The technology is used with SBRT and intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), which shapes beams of different intensities to fit the tumors.
"4D imaging allows us to ensure that radiation targets tumors while minimizing exposure to internal organs like the lungs or heart during the patient's breathing cycle," says Dr. Li. "Since we avoid more of the healthy tissue, there's less risk of side effects. For stage I lung cancers, we can ablate the tumor entirely, making surgery unnecessary. For breast cancer, we can completely avoid the heart."