New Devices Provide Faster, Fewer Radiotherapy Sessions

chrisbFall 2013

dr. hardee

Recent technology investments at UAMS’ Radiation Oncology Center are significantly reducing treatment times and frequency, leading to a better quality of life for UAMS cancer patients.

Today, an early-stage lung cancer patient may need as few as three visits for radiation treatment compared to 30 or more visits using conventional radiotherapy.

“We could literally not have any more advanced equipment than we have now,” said Matthew Hardee, M.D., Ph.D., one of three physicians who staff the Radiation Oncology Center, a component of the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.

The center purchased two Varian TrueBeam STx linear accelerators this year. They are the only two identical devices at one site in Arkansas capable of delivering precision external beam radiation with ultra–high dose rates. This means no delays in treatment. In addition, UAMS now offers the state’s only Accuray TomoHDA and a VoLO treatment planning system, replacing the previous Tomotherapy unit.

For patients, the technology means not just faster and fewer visits to the Radiation Oncology Center, but peace of mind that the devices are suited for the most challenging cases in all body sites, accurately delivering large doses to small and even mobile targets, such as tumors that move as a result of breathing. In addition to adult patients, children treated by UAMS pediatric oncologists at Arkansas Children’s Hospital are treated at the center.

“We are extremely excited to have the very latest technology so that we can make treatment much more manageable for our patients and their families,” said Vaneerat Ratanatharathorn, M.D., M.B.A., medical director of the Radiation Oncology Center and chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology in the College of Medicine.

Mathew Hardee, M.D., Ph.D.

Mathew Hardee, M.D., Ph.D., displays the latest technology at the Radiation Oncology Center.

Just as important as the technology, she said, are the faculty and staff who are capable of getting the most out of the center’s sophisticated software and equipment. In addition to its three M.D.s, the Radiation Oncology Center is staffed by five Ph.D. physicists, four medical dosimetrists, and 14 radiation therapists. It is the only site in Arkansas conducting federally funded radiation oncology research.

Hardee recently received a UAMS Translational Research Institute pilot award to study a promising compound, glutamine, which appears to protect breast cancer patients’ skin and other normal tissue while enhancing the effect of radiation on tumor cells. The study is being conducted in collaboration with V. Suzanne Klimberg, M.D., director of the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute Breast Cancer Program.

“The ingenuity of our staff has led to the development of several unique techniques to best treat our most challenging cases,” Ratanatharat­horn said. “Having these newest technologies will enable them to take our clinical, educational and research programs to new heights.”

The higher dose rates of the new devices are paired with sophisticated 3-D imaging, dynamic beam-shaping technology, drastically shortened treatment times, and improved targeting accuracy that spares normal tissue.

“Radiation oncology is very technology driven and there have been some major advances in the last few years,” Hardee said. “Cross-sectional imaging, CT scans and MRIs have really revolutionized the way radiation treatments are planned and how effectively and safely we can deliver radiation.”