Radiation therapy gets quicker at Singing River

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX)- A CT scan doesn't typically accompany a daily radiation treatment for cancer patients, but the imaging scan is routine for radiation patients at Singing River Regional Cancer Center.

The imaging is a new addition to their linear accelerator, a piece of equipment used to administer radiation doses. Doctors said the imaging might not be part of a typical treatment routine, but it has big benefits for patients.

"This system is more precise. With its on board image capabilities, they can take radiographs before every treatment," said Regional Cancer Center Director Chris Holland.

When doctors, technicians and physicists compare those images with ones that have already been made, doctors said they can make sure they are targeting radiation therapy to exactly the right place.

"This machine is accurate to about a third of a millimeter," said Dr. Sam Dennis, Director of Radiation Oncology at the Cancer Center. "And that's based on our measurements and acceptance testing.  And a third of a millimeter, that's about 1.5 hundredths of an inch. So it's a very, very precise machine."

Dr. Sam Dennis said the added precision can save a patient's healthy tissue that would otherwise be lost in the treatment.  He said it could prevent some long-term side effects, especially when it comes to those delicate areas, like the throat or the spine.

"We can probably spare about 50 percent more normal tissue with this equipment than our last one," Dennis said.

It's a complicated process, but health professionals at Singing River said it has a simple bottom line.

"It allows us to treat cancer sooner, more accurately, with fewer side effects," Holland said.  "So it's a great asset to our community that we can have this sort of technology."

Another plus for cancer patients is less time at the doctor.  Patients are given higher doses of radiation, so they don't have to spend as much at the office. Holland said that's especially important for radiation patients, who often have daily treatments.

"It's probably cut our treatment times in half," Holland said.

The price tag for the new linear accelerator is $2 million dollars. It's the only one of its kind in South Mississippi.

©2009 WLOX. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.