It often is no surprise to cancer patients when they hear radiation treatments will take nine weeks.
However, in the near future some may be surprised to learn treatment will take only one week thanks to new equipment at the Hays Medical Center Dreiling/Schmidt Cancer Institute.
The 14-year-old equipment was removed in late January and the new linear accelerator was installed this week.
The advantages to its Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT) capability include pinpoint precision, reduced cost and fewer treatments.
“The decreased number of treatments is especially appealing to patients and families,” said Dr. Babu Prasad, radiation oncologist. “Patients are busy with their lives and their jobs, and traveling for nine weeks is difficult.
“In some cases, five treatments that take only one week is the best course of radiation therapy,” he continued. “It will be much more convenient, less intrusive and less stressful emotionally and financially.”
SBRT uses rapid arc features for selected cancers. For example, selected lung, liver and prostate cancers, as well as highly selected brain cancers can be treated with SBRT.
“While this is not for everyone, patients that qualify may have their treatments condensed into one week,” Dr. Prasad said. “It is just as effective, maybe even more so, than other conventional treatments.
“In addition,” he noted, “SBRT causes no increase in toxicity or side effects, and the new machine can still do conventional treatments.”
During the next few weeks, it will be subjected to rigorous testing and ready for the first patient in late March.
In the interim, Dr. Prasad has continued to see patients for consultations and follow-ups. Patients needing treatment have been referred to a cancer center in Kansas, Nebraska or Colorado – whichever is geographically closest.
“With some low-risk cancers, however, a patient may be able to wait a few weeks until the new machine is up and running,” Dr. Prasad said.
Lindsey Fox, medical physicist, helps ensure the safety and quality of radiation treatments by managing the technical aspects. These include reviewing dose calculations, performing machine calibration and testing equipment routinely.
“Purchasing a new linear accelerator is similar to purchasing a new car,” Fox commented. “You don’t just choose the make and model; you also consider options that improve comfort and safety.
“We are upgrading treatment planning software, and investing in advanced imaging, positioning and testing equipment to improve the accuracy, comfort and safety of our treatments,” Fox explained.
With the advanced technology, come more rigorous testing and quality-assurance requirements.
“Equally important,” Fox said, “we have a caring, well-trained staff. Every person here is committed to excellence, as evidenced by our recent accreditation through the American College of Radiation Oncology.
“We will have state-of-the-art equipment that some larger institutes still don’t have,” Fox noted. “Western Kansans can receive the same or better care at HaysMed than at larger facilities far from home.”
Leo Elms, medical dosimetrist/operations manager, also is looking forward to the new linear accelerator and VisionRT equipment.
“The combination of these two pieces of equipment and additional software give us the ability to offer this advanced treatment,” Elms said. “The shorter courses of treatment are especially important because we serve such a large geographic area, which requires some patients to travel quite a distance to HaysMed.”
Elms mentioned the cancer institute’s radiation therapist has told patients about the new equipment. “They have voiced strong support for it,” Elms said. “We have even received thank-you cards from patients.
“Our department, the cancer institute and HaysMed are truly driven to provide the highest level of care,” he continued. “SBRT puts us on the leading edge of technology. Western Kansans are fortunate to have this level of technology and expertise available in their own backyard.”
The HaysMed Foundation is conducting a campaign called “Envision a Future Without Cancer” to raise funds for the $3 million project.
Donations are encouraged and HaysMed has committed to paying the balance.
Those who have made $100,000 contributions include Dr. Prasad and his family, Lillian Schumacher of Hays and the Dane G. Hansen Foundation. The Hadley Foundation has donated $1 million.
Donations can be sent to the HaysMed Foundation, 2220 Canterbury Drive, Hays, Ks. 67601 or by visiting www.haysmedfoundation.org/envision .