The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) this month became the first U.S. medical center to offer a speedier cancer radiation therapy. The new technique can turn a 20-minute radiotherapy session into a 90-second session for selected patients.
Additionally, the new therapy saves healthy human tissue from unwanted radiation exposure at rates that are the same or better than other radiotherapy techniques, according to doctors at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The new therapy is called RapidArc, which is the next-generation of intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). Conventional IMRT was introduced in the 1990s as a way to deliver multiple beams of radiation to a tumor, and minimize damage to nearby healthy tissues. RapidArc is an advancement on the earlier technology with radiation delivery times up to eight times faster than conventional IMRT, said the system's manufacturer Varian Medical Systems, Inc.
Varian technicians added the RapidArc capability to UAB's existing IMRT machine during the last week of April. The upgrades serve as a kind of guidance system, much like a jet's automatic pilot, so that IMRT delivery can happen during a single rotation of the machine's arm around the patient.
The first U.S. patient to be given the new therapy is an Alabama man with early-stage prostate cancer whose treatment started May 6, Fiveash said. Faster radiation delivery times reduce the chances that a slight move will affect the accuracy of the radiotherapy targeting. Also, it means patients spend less time and feel less discomfort in the treatment room, he said.
The new system incorporates powerful computers to help doctors arrive at a radiotherapy treatment strategy after pouring over thousands of biological and mathematical variables, including medical scans of each patient's tumor.
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