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New Tomotherapy Machine helps side effects of Radiation


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Anyone who has had radiation to treat a type of cancer, or who knows someone who has, knows it can be an uncomfortable experience.

One of the main concerns for people going through the daily process is side effects of the treatment. Many people experience burning, fatigue, and nausea.

But there is a radiation treatment that drastically reduces the side effects, and it’s in the Grand Strand.

Carolina Regional Cancer Center (CRCC) in Myrtle Beach has one of three Tomotherapy treatment machines in the state.

The Tomotherapy radiation machine looks like a CT scan. That’s because it is a CT scan.

The large cylinder-shaped machine takes multiple 3-dimensional pictures of the patient so the doctor knows precisely how much treatment is needed for the patient.

By taking such precise images, Tomotherapy is able to treat smaller, more sensitive areas better than conventional radiation machines.

Those two key features, taking many 3-D images and delivering the treatment to specific areas, are what sets Tomotherapy apart from other machines.

“So those two features together allows us to deliver a much higher dose than we could have even ten years ago with much better accuracy and safety,” Dr. Paul Geotowski says, “so that the side effects are less even though our dose is higher.”

Geotowski specializes in treating breast and lung cancer patients at CRCC.

He says this treatment is a huge stride in treating a number of cancers, especially prostate.

The reason prostate cancer patients are most ideal for this treatment is because of the sensitivity of the treated area.

“There’s a lot of very sensitive structures in there and so we’re able to fine tune and refine. And as cancers shrink, we can actually shrink the fields with it,” he says, “so that we’re not getting more normal structures pulled into the field if a cancer shrinks.”

Other cancers that are well-treated with Tomotherapy include those in the head and neck, stomach cancers, and female cancers, such as cervical.

Geotowski says this is because of the delicate nature of those areas.

However, some cancers are still better treated with the traditional machine.

Some of these include breast cancer, lung cancer, and those that affect bones in the body.

Conventional radiation usually treats these better because those cancers affect such large areas, and don’t require the specialized delivery method that Tomotherapy provides.

However, some of these patients can greatly benefit from a Tomotherapy treatment.

“If someone has had a previous treatment and it needs to be re-treated,"Geotowski says, “that’s many times an ideal situation where the increased accuracy and control that we have [with Tomotherapy], may be the better solution [than the traditional method].”

Since so many patients can benefit from the specialized treatment, Geotowski says one of the hardest things since having Tomotherapy has been deciding which treatment patients should have.

Since CRCC began using Tomotherapy in July, they’ve treated about 30 patients with it. Geotowski says about one-third of their patients use Tomotherapy, while the other two-thirds still use the traditional radiation machine.

The other two Tomotherapy machines in the state are in Spartanburg and Charleston. North Carolina does not have any of these machines.

Geotowski says the CRCC took a big leap of faith in getting the Tomotherapy machine, as opposed to investing in the “tried-and-true” radiation machine.

“But by doing that, it’s allowed us to have an opportunity to treat things in a way that we could never do before, or couldn’t do very well,” he says.

He is also hoping that CRCC will be able to combine their research and treatment experience with the research from Spartanburg and Charleston to continue improving Tomotherapy treatment.

For more information on cancer, call the American Cancer Society’s 24 hour hotline at (800)227-2345 or log onto http://www.cancer.org.

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We are using tomotherapy here in Knoxville in place of cyberknife at the Thompson Cancer Survival Center. You can get the same high doses without all the placement of the targets, etc. It is done over like 5 days total. I was talking to Charlie's radiation oncologist about it the other day.

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