Fighting cancer with the world’s best radiation oncology treatments

Dr. Hak Choy (left) and Dr. Robert Timmerman with the latest CyberKnife M6 robotic radiosurgery system

Patsy Whittenberg drove six hours from the Texas Panhandle for cancer treatment at UT Southwestern, the first place in Texas to offer the newest generation of Gamma Knife radiosurgery – a targeted radiation device that offers an alternative to invasive tumor removal surgery.

The Gamma Knife Icon, located at Zale Lipshy University Hospital, is one of several leading-edge radiation oncology technology systems available at UT Southwestern. Last year, treatment options for patients expanded with the opening of the new UT Southwestern William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital – Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center Radiation Oncology building, which at 63,000 square feet is the largest facility for radiation oncology in North Texas.

“What truly makes UT Southwestern special is the expertise and dedication of the people who work here, supported by the most advanced technology available and based on the latest research,” said Dr. Hak Choy, Chair of Radiation Oncology and holder of The Nancy B. and Jake L. Hamon Distinguished Chair in Therapeutic Oncology Research.

For Mrs. Whittenberg, the benefits of the Gamma Knife Icon far outweighed traditional treatment options – the newest generation of the machine offers better protection of surrounding brain tissue. It also allows for shorter treatment sessions and greater comfort, since it does not use the rigid head frame required by previous Gamma Knife radiosurgery system models.

“This machine was a blessing for me. I had my eyes closed and didn’t even know when I entered the machine,” said Mrs. Whittenberg, 77, whose sinus tumor was treated. “No pain, no side effects. The treatment was finished at noon, and we drove home that same day.”

Some of the most advanced radiation oncology technology in the world can be found at UT Southwestern, all aimed at helping patients better fight cancer.

Physicians from UT Southwestern’s Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute and the Simmons Cancer Center – the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in North Texas – collaborate on Gamma Knife Icon treatments. The technology combines cone beam CT imaging to verify patient positioning before treatment and continuous monitoring during the procedure to ensure accuracy. With the Gamma Knife Icon, radiation treatments can be spread out in smaller doses, called fractionated treatments, or given as distributive treatments – in which multiple, separate targets are identified and only a subset are treated on any given day.

“Our new Gamma Knife Icon has been specifically designed to deliver a highly effective dose of radiation with the lowest possible radiation exposure to the surrounding normal brain tissue and cranial nerves,” said Dr. Bruce Mickey, Professor of Neurological Surgery, Otolaryngology and Radiation Oncology, and Director of the Annette G. Strauss Center for Neuro-Oncology, part of the O’Donnell Brain Institute.

Dr. Mickey, who holds the William Kemp Clark Chair of Neurological Surgery, said the emphasis on brain protection is one of the founding principles of the O’Donnell Brain Institute. This principle drove the decision to upgrade to the sixth and newest model of the Gamma Knife system.

The latest-generation CyberKnife is another example of new technology available at UT Southwestern, one of the few places in the world that uses it to provide stereotactic partial breast radiation treatment to early stage breast cancer patients. The University demonstrated the success of this robotic radiosurgery system in a phase one clinical trial in which treatment time was reduced from nearly two months to just days.

Leslie LeBlanc took part in that trial. The Arlington, Texas, resident was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer in February 2013. Mrs. LeBlanc couldn’t drop everything for treatment. With this new therapy, she didn’t have to – the experimental therapy reduced her treatment duration to 10 days.

“It was overwhelming to consider doing several weeks of daily radiation while trying to work full time, be with my family, and do everything that I needed to do. This treatment option was so much better. I only missed a few days from work,” said Mrs. LeBlanc, who is looking forward to reaching her five-year mark as a breast cancer survivor in March.

“Mrs. LeBlanc is a working woman, a mom, and a wife. She’s a great example of many women who will be impacted by this disease,” said Dr. Asal Rahimi, Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology and Mrs. LeBlanc’s doctor. “We wanted to make this treatment more convenient for patients, because cancer is never convenient.”

Convenience, and enhanced treatment and diagnostic options, are hallmarks of UT Southwestern’s radiation oncology services. In another example, six state-of-the-art linear accelerators in the new radiation oncology building produce patient-specific beams at speeds six times faster than conventional machines, leading to a substantial decrease of irradiation time for selected tumors.

  1. The Varian VitalBeam, one of six state-of-the-art linear accelerators
  2. The Elekta Versa HD, another of the new linear accelerators
  3. The next-generation Accuray CyberKnife, the M6