New cancer treatment

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Bill “Maverick” Thiede is one of the first cancer patients in Colorado Springs to receive TomoTherapy treatment.

Bill “Maverick” Thiede was running out of options to treat two tumors on his brainstem. After three months of treatment, radiation failed to stop their growth. But Thiede has another option, thanks to a state-of-the-art system available at Memorial Health Systems.

Known as TomoTherapy, the system allows doctors to precisely target the tumors with radiation. The system combines three-dimensional imaging from CT scanning with targeted radiation beams.

After only six treatments, it’s too soon to tell if the tumors are shrinking, but Thiede said he’s glad to have the option.

“It just happened – I guess it was God’s will – that this machine arrived within the span of time I needed it to,” he said. “It’s been really wonderful. They’re so careful when they are doing the treatments.”

Thiede is an ideal candidate for the treatment, said Memorial Spokesman Bradd Hafer. Because of the location of Theide’s tumor, additional radiation treatments could cause more harm than good.

Michael Bloom, director of radiation oncology at Memorial, says TomoTherpy gets its name from tomography, or cross-sectional imaging.

“It’s amazing technology,” Hafer said. “It allows another option for radiation. For instance, if there’s a tumor on the spine, you can only have so much radiation before you risk paralysis. With the TomoTherapy, you can target just the tumor and leave the healthy tissue alone.”

TomoTherapy means “slice therapy,” and gets its name from tomography, or cross-sectional imagining, said Director of Radiation Oncology Michael Bloom. The equipment used for TomoTherapy looks much like a CT system.

“The patient lies down on a platform that moves continuously through a rotating ring gantry,” he said. “The gantry houses a linear accelerator, which delivers radiation in the shape of a fan beam as the ring is turning. With the platform moving at the same time the gantry is rotating, the radiation beam is delivered in a spiral pattern around the patient, targeting tumors with levels of radiation while minimizing the dose to healthy areas.”

The Memorial system is the only one in Colorado – and tin five surrounding states. The technology is still new, Hafer said, so no long-term success results are available.

“Usually, in terms of cancer treatment, we speak in terms of five year survival rates or 10 year survival rates,” he said. “This hasn’t been around long enough to do that. We view it as another tool in our arsenal, and we’re very glad that we have it available.”

However, the treatment method has met with rave reviews, despite any data to show that it is more effective in treating cancer.

“Moving to this unique platform is a quantum leap for radiation therapy,” said Dr. Richard Hudes, chief of the division of radiation oncology at St. Agnes Cancer Center, one of the earliest hospitals to receive the new equipment. “Referring doctors need to know that, in our opinion, TomoTherapy is a significantly improved radiation delivery method of unparalleled accuracy.”

According to the TomoTherapy Web site, the advantage in the treatment is twofold: having radiation projected into the tumor continuously, rather than having a limited number of fixed beams and providing full three-dimensional information so doctors know exactly how to position the patient.

“Doctors take a scan before the treatment, and the software allows them to visualize the tumor and target it exactly,” Bloom said. “This is extremely useful since certain types of tumors can change shape or shift from day to day.”

The treatment has only been available since July 2003. Since its first use in Knoxville, the company has placed 62 machines throughout the country.