New machine provides better radiation treatment for some local cancer patients

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POSTED: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - 9:39pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - 11:42pm

There is a new machine in town that can treat some of the most difficult cancer cases.

"Listen, when you're facing the diagnosis of cancer, you're looking to get the best treatment you can get," James Morgan stated.

Morgan should know. He recently completed treatment for prostate cancer. His radiation therapy came on an Elekta Versa HD, a linear accelerator that Mary Bird Perkins - Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center started using this spring.

It has a high dose rate, so instead of requiring up to 20 minutes for a session, it only takes five minutes.

"They have music that you can listen to and they have movies that you can watch while you're laying up there," Morgan mentioned. "But of course, you never see but about two or three minutes of any of it!"

"This comes in handy when you have a patient who may not be able to hold a position for a certain amount of time," explained Dr. Charles Wood, a radiation oncologist at MBP-OLOL. "When we treat a patient, they need to remain relatively still. If you think about the older population, they might be short-winded when they're lying on their back. If we're treating someone with throat cancer, they might have a lot of congestion that would cause them to choke."

The short duration also means patients are less likely to need other medication to help them get through a session, so there are fewer side-effects and the experience is more comfortable.

"They have the rest of the day to go through. And we don't want them to be drowsy because of a several-minute radiation treatment," Dr. Wood said.

The main advantage offered by the new machine is accuracy. It sends a very fine beam of radiation into the patient from any angle. The doctor has a better chance of hitting the tumor without hitting the nerves and organs surrounding it, no matter how big the tumor is or what shape it is.

"Tumors don't read the textbooks, and they don't come in the shapes and sizes that we would prefer," Dr. Wood said. "It can pinpoint so well that it looks like it's painting the tumor, regardless of the shape or size that we're dealing with." 

Only a few hospitals in the country have this kind of machine, partly because of the cost. While Elekta does not list the price for the Versa HD, a hospital in North Dakota reported spending $4.5 million for one earlier this year.

"For Baton Rouge to have something like that here that's that modern, it's just absolutely wonderful," Morgan said. "If you've got to have what I had, cancer of whatever kind, and I don't wish that on anybody, this is the place to be."

Dr. Wood said he was not surprised to learn that MBP-OLOL had purchased a Versa HD.

"Our guys who are in the administration ask us: 'what do you need?' And we tell them what we need and they get it done," Dr. Wood stated. So it's easy to take for granted. We expect to have the best technology, because we've been spoiled like that.

"You see it helping the patients, you see it being meaningful. Making a difference, not just something on paper, that's where the gratification comes in, and that's when you realize you're just in a very special place."

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