RapidArc improves cancer treatment

November 21, 2008
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Mercy Health Partners of Muskegon is the first health care system in Michigan — and one of the first in the country — to use RapidArc radiotherapy technology to treat cancer patients.

RapidArc is considered “the next dimension in speed and precision” because it gives clinicians the ability to deliver advanced, image-guided, highly accurate radiation treatment in a very short timeframe — two to eight times faster than standard intensity-modulated radiation therapy treatments.

Mercy Health Partners began the first treatments at its Johnson Family Center for Cancer Care in late September.

“This is a huge breakthrough for our patients,” said Nina Johnson, M.D., Mercy Health Partners’ medical director for radiation oncology. “It can treat cancers anywhere in the body, but we usually use it specifically for prostate, lung, head and neck tumors, and we have used it on pancreatic tumors — anything that requires very focused treatment.”

Standard radiation treatments require patients to lie still for up to 20 minutes. With RapidArc, an entire dose of radiation can be delivered in less than two minutes.

“These patients are sick, and they appreciate not having to lie on that hard table for such a long period of time,” Johnson noted.

According to Jennifer Hann Fisher, senior medical physicist and radiation safety officer at the Johnson Family Center for Cancer Care, another benefit of RapidArc is that it allows oncologists to provide 100 percent of the radiation dose directly to the site while simultaneously reducing radiation to surrounding healthy tissue by 75 percent. 

“The technology allows us to really conform the radiation beam to the size and shape of each patient’s tumor,” Johnson said. “The amount of radiation output from the machine is reduced by 75 percent, so the accuracy allows us to decrease the dose to all the surrounding, normal tissue. Obviously, we think that significantly decreases the risk of long-term complications to the normal tissue.”

Due to the decrease in radiation to normal tissue, patients suffer fewer short-term side effects during the course of treatment. The risk of long-term complications, which can occur anywhere from six months to years down the road, also is reduced, Johnson observed. 

For definitive cancer cases, patients may undergo 30 to 40 treatments over a period of eight weeks, she said. She predicts the technology will become the preferred method for treating most types of cancer.

Johnson said Mercy Health Partners is about the 30th in the country and the 42nd in the world to have acquired the RapidArc technology up to this point. She said part of the reason is availability: Varian Medical Systems Inc., RapidArc’s maker, has had so much demand for the technology that it has had to prioritize who would receive it first.

Mercy Health Partner’s president and CEO Roger W. Spoelman said that with RapidArc, the hospital can offer patients world-class cancer treatment “right here on the lakeshore.”

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