The advantages of this system include saving patients time by allowing our staff to map out their care, and provide treatment in a single location; and an accuracy that allows us to focus on an exact location within the body, sparing as much surrounding tissue as possible from potential damage.
Through a sophisticated laser marking system, the simulator pinpoints an exact area for treatment. The patient’s treatment area can now be accurately marked and recorded, while still in the CT scanner – eliminating a step in the treatment process. Information from the simulator is then transferred to the Eclipse Treatment Planning System, and then to a linear accelerator for radiation treatment.
We recently added another state-of-the-art method of cancer treatment that delivers high doses of radiation directly to the cancer cells in a very targeted way, again with much more precision than conventional radiotherapy. Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) uses computer-generated images to plan, and then deliver, tightly focused radiation beams to a cancerous tumor, encompassing it in a three-dimensional radiation “cloud,” within the intersection of several beams which are delivered from different angles.
The process begins when diagnostic images are converted to three-dimensional models which allow a treatment plan to be developed, based on tumor size, shape, and location within the body, combined with the physician’s dose instructions. Treatment can then begin in our linear accelerator, which is equipped with a special beam-shaping device called a multileaf collimator (MLC).
The 120 tungsten leaves, or slats, of our MLC precisely shape the beam of radiation. The MLC is dynamic, and moves during treatment, varying the dose delivered across each beam; this allows high doses of radiation to be delivered to the tumor, while preserving more of the healthy tissue around the affected area.
Although IMRT may not be appropriate for all patients, clinical studies have shown that higher dose rates, delivered through this technique, are improving the rate of tumor control. With early detection, IMRT may be able to eradicate tumors before cancer spreads; and physicians can treat cancers that were previously untreatable with radiation therapy. In addition, IMRT can usually be done on an outpatient basis.
The greatest technology doesn’t mean a lot without qualified people to operate it, and nurture patients through their treatment. Staff Radiation Oncologist Cynthia Ballenger, M.D., is licensed in three states and certified by the American Board of Radiology. The North Carolina native served as the Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology at Emory University, in Atlanta, before joining the Albemarle Hospital Regional Oncology Center. She also served as a radiation oncologist at Duke University Medical Center’s Department of Radiation Oncology. Other Regional Oncology Center staff includes three registered radiation therapists, a registered nurse, a physicist, and a dosimetrist.
Albemarle Health offers multi-dimensional cancer treatment including surgery, radiation oncology, chemotherapy in its ambulatory infusion center, pastoral care, and a palliative care program. Albemarle Health also sponsors various support groups for patients and their families, and works closely with the American Cancer Society to provide education, cancer prevention information, and screening programs for residents in its seven-county service area.