Ask the Experts: Picture cancer gone with radiation therapy

February 11, 2013 | by Hiu Chung So

Radiation therapy, along with chemotherapy and surgery, is a primary form of cancer treatment. And just as surgical techniques have gotten better and cancer drugs have gotten “smarter,” radiation therapy has undergone dramatic improvements over the years as well.

New methods and technology, such as City of Hope's TomoTherapy, allows for more effective radiation with fewer side effects. New radiation methods and technology, such as City of Hope's TomoTherapy, allow for more effective cancer treatment with fewer side effects. Jeffrey Wong, left, will be available to discuss this and other radiation therapies at the upcoming Ask the Experts presentation. (Photo courtesy City of Hope)

To showcase the breakthroughs in radiation therapy, Sagus Sampath, M.D., assistant professor in City of Hope's Department of Radiation Oncology, will speak and answer questions at this month’s Ask the Experts presentation, “Picture Cancer Gone: Latest Treatments in Radiation Oncology.” The chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology, Jeffrey Y.C. Wong, M.D., will also participate.

Here are some of the advances that will be highlighted at the event:

  • Improved targeting – “Our state-of-the-art technology lets us visualize a person’s tumor just shortly before administering the radiation; from these images, we can accurately hone the beam on the tumor while sparing nearby normal tissues,” Sampath said.
  • Shorter treatment times – Because radiation therapy is now more targeted than in years past, Sampath said, a larger dose of radiation can be administered, reducing the number of sessions required as well as the length of each session. “Treatment regimens that used to take six weeks may be completed in as a few as five days now,” Sampath said. “And some patients may just find themselves on the table for a few minutes, rather than half an hour.”
  • Better monitoring – In the past, applying radiation to constantly moving organs — a breathing lung, for example — has been particularly tricky. But Sampath said new methods, such as using markers to tag the area around the tumor, allow for realtime monitoring of the tumor’s location; this enables the oncologist to make adjustments that maximize the treatment’s effectiveness while minimizing its side effects.
  • Second chances – In the past, patients could undergo radiation therapy only once, in order to avoid cumulative side effects. But recent research and better techniques have shown that patients can be safely treated again for new tumors, Sampath said.

In addition to discussing improvements in radiation therapy, Sampath and Wong will also answer audience questions and dispel a few myths, such as that patients themselves become radioactive through cancer treatment. Feb ATE


“That simply doesn’t happen for 99 percent of our patients,” Sampath said. (The only exception to the rule is with brachytherapy, in which radioactive material is implanted within or near the tumor.)

For more information about the latest in radiation therapy, attend the Ask the Experts event Feb. 21, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. (The event is free and a light dinner will be served, so please reserve a spot.) A tour of City of Hope's new Elsie and Robert Pierson Radiation Oncology Center will be offered from 5:15 to 5:45 p.m.

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