Tacoma on cutting edge of new cancer treatment

Tacoma on cutting edge of new cancer treatment
TACOMA -- Cancer patients now have new technology available that delivers radiation treatment quicker and stronger. And doctors say there are fewer side effects from the radiation.

Tacoma General Hospital is one of only eight facilities in the world offering the Rapid Arc radiation treatment.

Harold Swank is among the first to get radiation treatment from this breakthrough technology. The 81-year-old Gig Harbor man has a tumor in his neck.

"You're not going to feel anything," the radiation technician told Swank. "You might hear the machine."

This linear accelerator has just been outfitted with Rapid Arc technology from Varian Medical Systems.

It's called Rapid ARC for a good reason because what would normally take about 10 minutes can be done in 90 seconds and the beams are more targeted.

The machine moves in an arc around the patient. You can hear the radiation doses being delivered as Rapid Arc hits the tumor from every angle.

The 177 beam fields are constantly changing as the accelerator moves around the tumor making sure to not damage sensitive areas next to the tumor.

"It's exciting because we can treat those areas with higher doses, but also spare the tissue that causes side effects for the patient," said Dr. Suraj Singh, a radiation oncologist.

Dr Carolyn Rutter, another radiation oncologist, added ,"We can create a high dose level right next to a structure that can't tolerate a whole lot of dose, like for instance the nerves that allow us to see. We want to be extremely careful in protecting those."

The speed also means patients don't have to lie perfectly still for long periods of time. Therefore the radiation beam can stay on target.

"Because the dose is delivered so quickly you don't have to worry that once you've set up your aim, so to speak, that the patient might move during treatment," Rutter said.

Singh says they are also able to give potentially higher doses. "And we all know that higher doses lead to a better control rate," he said.

The patient walks in and walks out in a matter of a few minutes.

"Oh, it was fine," Swank said. "You don't have to lay there motionless for a period of time. I feel good about doing it."

Quickly, it's on to the next patient. It provides faster treatment, higher doses and doctors believe a better success rate at knocking out those tumors.

Radiation oncologists say this new technology is great for treating tumors in the throat, near optical nerves, early stage lung cancer, thyroid, prostate, and tumors in the back of the belly near bowels.