Ballard is now home to the newest technology in cancer treatment. Swedish Hospital just opened the first TomoTherapy center in the Greater Puget Sound Region. TomoTherapy combines the use of CT imaging into the delivery of radiation in real time.
“What is unique about it is that it basically looks like a CAT scanner, it spins around the patient like a corkscrew,” Daniel Landis, M.D., Ph.D. the lead physician at the new Swedish Cancer Institute located at 5225 Tallman Ave. NW informed me.
Conventional radiation machines have fixed fields, which force oncologists to choose between four angles; left, right, front or back and deliver radiation through a 40cm square opening. In contrast, TomoTherapy allows Dr. Landis to shape the dose more efficiently and administer the radiation as a beam that can be curved or made into complex shapes. “You can curve around complicated organs and spare the heart, spare the lungs, and kidneys.”
The incorporation of real time CT imaging technology insures that the patient is properly positioned immediately before and after the administration of radiation. “In the olden days,” Dr. Landis began, “we basically used tattoos on the patient’s skin and then we would take an x-ray to see the bones.” There can be unseen movement in the lungs from breathing, or in the prostate from bowel gas moving around, which can influence the effectiveness of the treatment. “So it gives you a real time accurate look at the tumor, that allows us to be safer, treat at a higher dose, and presumably have better cure rates.”
For one patient who is undergoing radiation treatment on his spine, TomoTherapy is the best option. With traditional radiation machines, oncologists were forced treat the 70cm area in two 40cm parts. “When you match fields, it is very difficult to line them up exactly.” Dr. Landis explains, “Imagine when you take a flashlight and shine it against the wall, the edges are not sharp but they are grey, so you are matching two grey areas. In addition, the beams diverge and create areas that are either hot or cold, get more or less radiation. So you avoid all of these matching issues with the spiral technique.”
Picture by Jeff Crawford / BigTop Studio
Dawn Crawford, another patient at the new Swedish Cancer Institute, is very happy to be one of the first patients. “I still have cancer in my chest, so this machine treats that without getting my organs.” Dawn says after her 15th of 33 radiation treatments. “It was worth the wait and worth coming here.”
Dawn has triple negative breast cancer, which is a new type of breast cancer that was discovered about five years ago. It can only be treated by chemotherapy and radiation. “So the fact that this gives you the absolute best radiation option, just makes it even better for me.”
Since this is all fairly new technology, there is not very much research on the cure rates. “I don’t know if anyone has published long term data in terms of cancer care, but they have published side effect data which has shown that there are fewer side effects with TomoTherapy.” Said Dr. Landis
Although this technology cannot yet scan during the administration of radiation treatment, this is something that Dr. Daniel Landis predicts will be available very soon.
“Swedish Cancer Institute was established in 1932 as the first dedicated cancer treatment facility west of the Mississippi river,” Ed Boyle, a media relations manager for Swedish said. Although it is based out of the First Hill location in Seattle, the Cancer Institute has had a presence in Ballard for a number of years. With the new addition of TomoTherapy, The Swedish Cancer Institute in Ballard now offers many different oncology services.
“The fact that it is here in Ballard is great because it is still truly a community hospital setting,” Ed Boyle says in the new facility. “People who live and work in this area can take advantage of this technology here in this convenient location and not have to deal with driving to downtown.”
Swedish Cancer Institute has exclusive access to this technology in the greater Puget Sound area for the next year. TomoTherapy is not only another tool to help treat cancer but is a tool that provides real advantages to patients and care providers in this area.
Contributor Ryan McNamee is an intern from the University of Washington School of Communication.