Q. What are the latest advances in radiation treatment of various types of Cancer?
A. By Paul Song, M.D., radiation oncologist at Saint John’s Health Center.
Radiation oncology is one of three methods used to treat cancer. It may be used in conjunction with surgery to remove tumors, and chemotherapy – the intravenous administration of drugs to shrink and destroy cancer cells.
Radiation is an invisible beam of energy which affects the DNA of rapidly dividing cells. Cancer cells grow rapidly out of control and radiation kills cancer cells. And, while normal healthy cells are also impacted, they do recover. Radiation can be applied either from outside the body or through implants placed directly into tumors.
Saint John’s Health Center utilizes a multidisciplinary approach to the treatment of cancer. If surgery will work to remove the cancerous tumor it is the best option. And sometimes after surgery either chemotherapy or radiation therapy is used to follow up the surgery. When surgery is not an option, either chemotherapy or radiation therapy or a combination of both methods is recommended. Chemotherapy can be used to shrink tumors and then radiation is directed at a smaller area of cancerous cells. Today the goal is to increase the success of destroying cancer cells while reducing harmful side affects of both chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
In the new cancer center at the new Saint John’s Health Center, they will use pinpoint radiation which enables radiation oncologists to treat tumors, such as brain tumors that are too deep to be removed surgically, while causing little damage to healthy cells around the tumor. Tumor mapping will also be used before each daily treatment. Tumors tend to move and this mapping will enable physicians to know where the tumor is on a daily basis in order to use image guided radiation therapy.
Today prostate cancer, breast cancer, uterine cancer and cervical cancer can be treated with radiation seed implants which are non-permanent. Radiation is directed into the implants through catheters for a specific period of time with no radiation left in the patient’s body after treatment is completed. With breast cancer this type of treatment means a patient receives a high dose of radiation over 5 days rather than the older treatment regimen of five to six weeks of radiation.
Mammosite technology is also available in cases of early stage breast cancer, that hasn’t spread into the lymph nodes. At the time of surgery, a temporary catheter, like a balloon, is placed where the tumor was. Tiny radioactive wires are connected to the catheter through a tube and radiation is administered through the wires twice a day for five days.
Studies have shown that people with radiation seed implants do not necessarily present a threat of radiation exposure to the people they come in contact with, but it is recommended that pregnant women stay at least six feet away from people with implants. While there is a higher risk of developing cancer among people who received radiation treatments or who were exposed to radiation twenty years ago, the types of radiation patients are exposed to today are less likely to cause cancer to develop.
In the new Saint John’s Cancer Center, there will be a state-of-the-art linear accelerator which will enable radiation oncologists to shape the radiation beams and truly customize each treatment used based on things such as the type, size and location of tumors and the size of the patient.
Paul Song, M.D. is a radiation oncologist at Saint John’s Health Center. For more information about Dr. Song and other Saint John’s services please call (310) 829-8990 or visit the website at www.stjohns.org. For a physician referral or a second opinion, please call 1-888-ASK-SJHC