SEATTLE, June 10, 2009 – Very few areas of medicine are changing faster than cancer care and Seattle physicians and researchers are leading the way.
A patient with pancreatic cancer at the Swedish Cancer Institute (SCI) recently became the first person in the United States to be treated with a new technology known as Volumetric intensity Modulated Arc Therapy (VMAT). VMAT cuts radiation treatment times by one-half to two-thirds through delivering a higher and more targeted dose to cancerous tumors, without compromising patient safety. To date, more than 10 patients have been treated with VMAT at the Swedish Cancer Institute. They have included patients with tumors of the brain, abdomen and pelvis.
"VMAT allows the delivery of higher radiation doses with greater precision. We will kill more cancer and patients will have fewer side effects," said Vivek Mehta, M.D., director of SCI's Center for Advanced Targeted Radiation Therapies.
Faster treatment times often mean improved comfort for patients, making it easier for them to remain still during the process. For the first VMAT patient, total treatment time was less than 10 minutes. More important, Dr. Mehta's team was able to greatly reduce the radiation exposure to surrounding sensitive areas – including the spinal cord, left and right kidneys and the liver.
Dr. Mehta is the principal investigator on a VMAT clinical study that will last approximately six months and involve at least 20 separate patients. Part of the study's purpose is to prove definitively that VMAT is both faster and safer than the existing treatment approach.
With VMAT, Swedish clinicians are able to treat more patients with complex cancers than they could in the past. That includes those who have had radiation therapy previously with limited success and patients with tumors adjacent to critical structures in the body. Also, the technology should benefit patients who find it difficult to lie completely still for the typical 30 or more minutes of treatment time.
Dr. Mehta estimates that 10 percent to 15 percent of people now treated at the Swedish Cancer Institute will be good candidates for VMAT.
Swedish clinicians are working closely with VMAT developer Elekta Corp. of Atlanta. "I believe we were chosen as the first North American site because Swedish has a proven track record of innovation in cancer care," Dr. Mehta said. "Medical manufacturers often come to SCI's Center for Advanced Targeted Radiotherapy with novel ideas and we select the technologies that have the greatest potential to improve treatment and save lives."
What's on the horizon?
Dr. Mehta believes the next innovation will be some form of adaptive radiotherapy. By borrowing software from other disciplines, clinicians may be able to see the results of the radiation therapy within 30 to 60 seconds and adapt their treatment plans instantly. Instead of viewing an image of the tumor in week one of treatment and not again for the typical six weeks, physicians could make near real-time corrections to both radiation targeting and dosage.
"We can cure about half of the patients we see, many of whom have very serious cancers. That is far better than a generation ago, but we need to keep improving outcomes for the other 50 percent," said Dr. Mehta. "As the largest and most comprehensive cancer treatment program in the Pacific Northwest, that is our sole mission."
About the Swedish Cancer Institute
The Swedish Cancer Institute (SCI) opened in 1932 as the first dedicated cancer-care center west of the Mississippi. Now in its 76th year, it's the largest and most comprehensive cancer treatment program in the Pacific Northwest, caring for more people with more types of cancer than any other provider in the region. The Institute has a presence on all three of Swedish's hospital campuses – First Hill, Cherry Hill and Ballard – as well as in East King County via a medical oncology clinic near Issaquah. A true multidisciplinary facility, the SCI offers a wide range of advanced cancer-treatment options in chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery – backed by extensive diagnostic capabilities, patient education and support-group services. The SCI's clinical-research arm encompasses industry-sponsored and cooperative group therapeutic trials, cancer screening and prevention trials, and investigator-initiated trials. Breast-cancer screening and diagnostics are available through the Swedish Breast Care Centers and mobile mammography program. Swedish radiation therapy is also offered at area hospitals including Stevens Hospital (Edmonds); Valley Medical Center (Renton); Highline Community Hospital (Burien) and Northwest Hospital (North Seattle). For more information, visit www.swedish.org
About the Center Advanced Targeted Radiation Therapies
The Center Advanced Targeted Radiation Therapies encompasses the comprehensive and complementary array of advanced and emerging radiation delivery tools available to patients for both approved therapies and clinical research efforts. That includes technologies such as Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy, Image-Guided Radiation Therapy, linear accelerator-based stereotactic radio surgery, the Calypso® 4D Localization System, Xoft Axxent™ Electronic Brachytherapy System, MammoSite® Radiation Therapy System, the Seattle CyberKnife Center™ at Swedish Medical Center, and Northwest Hospital Gamma Knife Center. SCI is also working toward adding the latest generation of proton beam radiotherapy systems by December 2010.
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