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Healthwise: RapidArc Radiation

February 29, 2012

Many cancer patients often turn to radiation for treatment, but doctors say RapidArc radiation could make radiation sessions quicker and more comfortable for patients.

A machine in the Phillip's Cancer Center at Martha Jefferson Hospital can be helpful to certain patients with head and neck cancer as well as those being treated for cancer around the pelvis, like prostate cancer or gastro intestinal cancers.

"The goal with radiation is to provide a high dose of radiation sufficient to eradicate the cancer, but to minimize the collateral damage so that we're not injuring the normal tissue," said Dr. Sylvia Hendrix.

With RapidArc radiation, the machine continuously circles around the patient's body which sends out an equal amount of beams.

In the conventional method of radiation, the machine is placed into a treatment position. A beam is delivered to the patient and the technicians then have to reposition the machine several times until treatment is finished. This often results in longer treatment sessions and more time that the patient has to lie still.

If the treatment is delivered in a shorter period of time, there is less opportunity for the patient to move or for the patient to have internal organ movement. Thus, the RapidArc treatments will be more precise.

Edward Chip Yates, a patient at Martha Jefferson Hospital, is being treated for prostate cancer. He was one of the first to receive RapidArc radiation.

"What I realized was I got exactly what I was getting before. The difference was that the machine was constantly re-calibrating itself as it goes around, as opposed to being calibrated at it's various stops," said Yates.

While he still received the same dosage and treatment, Yates said RapidArc definitely cuts the time, which can make a difference when you're coming to a hospital everyday for radiation.

"I think the greatest aspect of it is really the psychological part for the patient. Because it is so fast and yet you know that it's equally accurate, so it relieves a lot of the stress and that's the main benefit for me," said Yates.

Oncologists say that RapidArc is not necessarily the best treatment for all cancer patients. Only a team of doctors can decide what's best for each patient when coming up with a treatment plan.

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