Health Watch -- Taking Aim at Cancer

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An advanced treatment for cancer may help even more patients.

The problem with some cancer treatments is that in order to kill the cancerous cells, surrounding healthy cells and tissues may be harmed as well. But advanced radiation technology makes it possible to precisely target tumors without damaging the surrounding tissues. Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas are among the few in the nation using the Accuray CyberKnife. This technology uses a linear accelerator on a robot arm to find the tumor and focus beams of radiation on it. It compensates for body movement by keeping the beam focused on the tumor. Other forms of radiation therapy require strict immobilization so the radiation can stay focused on the tumor.

The device has been used to treat tumors in the head and neck, the spine, pancreas and prostate. The UT Southwestern doctors now are launching a study to see how effective it is for treating liver tumors. The study will cover two phases - one to find the best radiation dosage for treating liver tumors and another to determine how effective the treatment is for patients whose liver cancer has spread.

Dr. Lawrence Chinsoo Cho, the UT Southwestern radiation oncologist who is leading the study, says the Accuray is letting doctors treat tumors that otherwise might have required surgery or that couldn't have been treated at all. While conventional surgery requires a hospital stay and a longer recovery period, this kind of radiation therapy can be done on an outpatient basis. It also doesn't have the kind of unpleasant side effects seen with chemotherapy, such as hair loss.

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Aug. 2004

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