You could say treating head and neck cancer has become something of an art. I have spent the last 12 years refining my artistic skill of “painting” radiation onto tumors in the head and neck.
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‘Painting’ tumors away
New radiation technology affords me this ability to “paint” away tumors – targeting their exact size and shape.
If, for example, a patient’s tumor is the shape of an apple, I’ll “brush” the radiation inside the patient in the shape of an apple. Dose-painted radiation spares even more healthy tissue – preventing adverse side effects and speeding up recovery for my patients in ways I have never seen before.
Innovation in radiation therapy technology has made this possible. I’ve never been more excited about the value of radiation therapy to our cancer patients than today.
Where art meets science
Intensity modulated radiation therapy, or IMRT, has been refined to the point where machines called linear accelerators can modulate a radiation beam into 2.5-mm segments of radiation. IMRT allows me to precisely target the radiation.
Fifty to 100 beam shapes enter the body from nine or 10 different directions, personalizing my patients’ treatment to their exact anatomy and tumor geometry.
Getting a tumor in the cross hairs
I have to make sure that we target our beam accurately to precisely target the location of the patient’s tumor. That is where another enabling technology helps out: image guided radiation therapy, or IGRT.
Now, my patients undergo IGRT before we turn the beam on, making sure we have the tumor right in the middle of the cross hairs.
The type of IGRT I prescribe uses CT scans to give us a 3D picture of where the tumor and the normal organs are located that day, allowing us to see the target, aim and shoot.
How new treatments improve quality of life
We have already seen how this combination of new technologies improves quality of life for patients.
For example, we have shown that my patients experience less swallowing difficulty using refined IMRT and IGRT. And a report by Yale University shows that using IMRT decreased the number of days patients were hospitalized after chemotherapy and radiation by an average of nine days.
Personalizing radiation for each patient
At Cleveland Clinic, I now have many more tools to create radiation treatment plans personalized for each of my patients.
Our radiation technologies have enabled me and my cancer team to devise an incredibly precise, accurate, and conformal type of radiation therapy for cancers in the head and neck. These technologies have made outstanding patient outcomes a reality.