Although it kills cancer cells, radiation can take a toll on patients. The therapy often requires weeks of hospital visits that disrupt work and life, and can leave patients struggling with fatigue and other side effects.
But now there’s a new technology that delivers radiation in a matter of days —with better accuracy and fewer side effects.
Southeast Georgia Health System is the only center in Georgia to offer the CyberKnife M6 Series, a robotic radiation delivery system. The M6 Series, featuring enhanced precision that shortens treatment times, has replaced the original CyberKnife technology that the health system has used since 2011. The Health System began treating patients with the new CyberKnife M6 on Nov. 13.
Despite its intimidating name, CyberKnife treatment is noninvasive. The system uses real-time imaging: The technology automatically tracks the targeted area and projects beams of intense energy directly to cancerous cells.
Because conventional radiation is less accurate, and can sometimes damage healthy tissues and organs surrounding the tumor, it must be administered in lower doses over time.
“CyberKnife offers sub-millimeter precision, which allows for higher doses and substantially shortened treatment duration,” said Dr. Timothy A. Jamieson, a board-certified radiation oncologist and medical director of the health system’s Cancer Care Centers and CyberKnife program.
As Dr. David McNally, manager, chief medical physicist explains, the enhanced precision of the new CyberKnife M6 comes from the fact it offers new multi-leaf collimation, or MLC. The new MLC features a rectangular head that uses 26 small, thin leaf pairs to shape and highly conform the beams of radiation shape to nonspherical tumors and with tighter margins.
“The MLC, along with the iris and fixed collimators, allow treatment of more tumor sites than previously,” McNally said. “The new engineering allows for greater accuracy with increased patient protection and safety parameters.”
In cases of prostate cancer, for example, CyberKnife radiation can be delivered in five consecutive days, whereas traditional radiation might require nine weeks of treatment. McNally adds that treatment times have also decreased with the CyberKnife M6. The average treatment time is now 20 to 25 minutes, compared to 45 minutes to an hour previously.
“It’s a short amount of time, with minimal disruption to the patient’s daily activities and work,” Jamieson said. “Not only is it convenient, it’s very effective.”
Greater accuracy also means fewer side effects. Prostate cancer patients typically experience fewer urinary and potency issues when treated with CyberKnife, while lung cancer patients can preserve pulmonary function when healthy areas of the lung are protected from radiation.
The health system Cancer Care Center uses CyberKnife to treat prostate, lung, brain and liver cancers, as well as acoustic neuroma, recurrent disease and metastatic disease. CyberKnife also shows promise for early-stage breast cancer, along with other tumors that are inoperable or complex.
Jamieson expects the new machine will be a regional draw for cancer patients. The Health System is already one of the busiest CyberKnife centers in the country, treating about 300 patients annually.