New TrueBeam Radiation Therapy Reduces Cancer Treatment from Weeks to Days
Radiation therapy is a key ingredient in cancer treatment. With traditional treatment, a linear accelerator delivers a small amount of radiation to cancer cells in a process that can take up to eight weeks. But now, with TrueBeam™ STx radiation, UAB physicians are delivering more concentrated radiation more precisely.
“With TrueBeam, we can safely treat a small tumor in the body in just one to five days, as opposed to seven or more weeks,” says UAB Radiation Oncologist John Fiveash, M.D. “When a tumor is treated this way, a large amount of radiation is delivered over a short amount of time, which targets the tumor more accurately.”
With a high definition multi-leaf collimator that shapes the radiation beam, TrueBeam can target a tumor precisely, saving the healthy cells that surround it. “Since the radiation is more precise, we can deliver more in a day, which shortens the total treatment time,” says Fiveash.
“TrueBeam is well tolerated by patients,” Fiveash says. “People don’t get as sick with TrueBeam because it’s more precise. Because the treatment is coming out of the machine quicker, the patient spends less time being treated, so it reduces patient movement from fatigue. This ensures the patient is in the right position for treatment.”
A major difference between previous linear accelerators and TrueBeam radiation is the new digital architecture and behind-the-scenes controls. It also allows for future development, growth and new technology to be added to the platform as the treatment method is refined. UAB was among the first facilities to have TrueBeam technology after it was approved by the FDA, and is now one of only four hospitals in the world to offer this technology to patients.
“Optical imaging will be added soon,” says Fiveash. “This will give real-time monitoring of the patient’s position, as opposed to taking an x-ray or CT scan to locate the tumor. It is so precise that it can actually tell a patient’s breathing pattern. This allows the machine to treat the tumor even if it moves while breathing, as is the case with a tumor in the lung.”
TrueBeam is an excellent method to treat small tumors in many places in the body, including the lungs, spinal cord and liver, and in the future UAB will treat the prostate and pancreas. In fact, lung cancer treatment can be reduced from eight weeks to just three days for patients with smaller tumors. However, if patients have a large tumor or if a physician is worried that cancerous cells have spread to lymph nodes, traditional radiation therapy with chemotherapy is still the preferred method of treatment.
“Some patients are having TrueBeam treatments in lieu of traditional surgery so they can maintain their normal activities,” Fiveash says. “Others have this treatment in conjunction with chemotherapy, which allows them to begin receiving chemo much earlier than with traditional radiation therapy. TrueBeam can be integrated with other cancer treatments because it’s so well tolerated by patients.”
“TrueBeam is one part in the fight against cancer,” Fiveash says. “The UAB Cancer Biology labs have scientists working on medicines and drugs that will positively interact with these treatments. We look at the whole biology of the tumor and how we’ll attack it.”