A new view improves care for cancer patients

November 03, 2006
Cancer treatment through radiation at the Zimmer Cancer Center has gone to a place that once primarily belonged to pregnant women.

Patients with small tumors, typically with prostate or gynecological cancer, often undergo an ultrasound before radiation therapy. The ultrasound helps better pinpoint tumors in soft tissue that can move a few millimeters day-to-day, depending on the fullness of the patient’s bladder. This helps the therapist train a higher dose of radiation that is less likely to affect good tissue.

“This is drastically improving our patients’ outcomes,” said Michelle Hoadley RT(T), Chief Radiation Therapist at the Cancer Center. Rather than inadvertently treating healthy tissue, she said, “now we’re able to bring doses up higher for a better cure rate and we’re able to reduce side effects.”

The Zimmer Cancer Center, on the campus of New Hanover Regional Medical Center, is designated as a Teaching Hospital Cancer Program by the National Commission on Cancer, largely based on its participation in national research trials and its affiliation with UNC Hospitals.

The ultrasound technology works in concert with Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy, a new system that began at the Cancer Center last year. This therapy calls for targeting the tumor with a three-dimensional plan that is the size and shape of the tumor. The ultrasound helps further define the tumor’s exact position on the day of treatment.

Hoadley said the Cancer Center began using ultrasound in the spring as leading hospitals across the nation were implementing this technology. This advance in care effectively opened the Cancer Center to the radiation treatment of prostate cancer. It also allows the center to treat smaller tumors than before.

The image is not nearly as dramatic as viewing an unborn child for the first time, although it typically represents the first time patients have seen their bladder.

“No one comes in to look at it,” Hoadley said. “The patient looks at it, but they can’t see the tumor. They’re looking at the surrounding area. The tumor is either gone or it’s too small.”

The next advancement in radiation therapy is more exact pinpointing of tumors in the brain, head and neck, she said. Cameras mounted on the ceiling of the treatment area work with molds patients hold in their mouths to correct for any movement patients make during treatment.

For an appointment at the Zimmer Cancer Center, please call 342.3000