The UNM Cancer Center can now add stereotactic radiosurgery to its growing list of treatment options. This non-invasive outpatient procedure kills tumor cells in the brain in a single treatment. For people with brain tumors or whose cancer has spread to the brain, this treatment option can help to preserve their strength and health.
The procedure uses existing UNM Cancer Center radiation therapy equipment to focus a set of x-ray beams on a single tiny point inside the brain. The x-rays kill the cells at that point. Creating the procedure required a multidisciplinary team that included a neurosurgeon, a radiation oncologist, and a radiation physicist. "The reason stereotactic radio surgery is tricky is because the forgiving aspect of traditional radiation treatment is gone. There is no room for error," says Thomas Schroeder, MD. Dr. Schroeder is the Medical Director of Radiation Oncology at the UNM Cancer Center and is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Hematology/Oncology in the Department of Internal Medicine at the UNM School of Medicine.
"When we treat someone for breast cancer or lung cancer or a cancer in the abdomen," he explains, "people are breathing. Their insides move around. We account for this by adding margin to the treatment volume." Additionally, most radiation treatments are given slowly over weeks. Normal tissues repair damage from the radiation between treatments.
But in stereotactic radiosurgery, there is no room for error because the brain is a very delicate organ and the radiation is given in a single large dose. Physicians painstakingly find the exact location of the tumor. "The tumor could be right next to a very important structure in the brain or next to a very important nerve," says Dr. Schroeder. "With our process, we can achieve sub-millimeter accuracy. It was a challenge for our physics department to make sure we got everything right."
Recently, the UNM Cancer Center team successfully treated its first patient using their newly-developed and heavily-tested process. Dr. Schroeder was pleased with the result. "It's about trying to take care of our patients," he says. "That's what we're here to do."
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