When it comes to radiation therapy there are a lot of different ways in which one can receiver their treatments. It can be from an external source that is made by a machine or it can be an internal source that is emitted from a natural substance.
There is a new machine on the market that was developed at the University of Wisconsin in the Comprehensive Cancer Center by a team of medical physicists (this the a part of my expertise) lead by Roc Mackee. The new machine is called tomotherapy.
Tomotherapy is a machine that looks like a normal CT Scanner. (This is what it looks like)
The unique thing about it is that is has a small linear accelerator inside of it that rotates around the donut of the machine. A linear accelerator is the structure that creates the high energy radiation that allows us to treat cancer patients.
The cool thing about this is that patients are used to what a CT Scanner looks like. There is less stress when going in for a radiation treatment now because the machine looks the same as a typical CT Scanner that takes pictures.
Here’s what really makes it cool and great for patients. Traditionally radaition was administered to a patient in one specific area, for a period of time, and the machine stayed in place. With tomotherapy, the patient is now moving into the machine and the radiation beam is always on, as well as spinning in a continuous circle. (Here is a video of the machine in motion.) This is good for patients since it allows the radiation beam to be very very small like a piece of lead in a pencil. As it travels in a circle, and the patient moves under the beam, it allows the radaition to be “painted” directly around the cancer itself while limiting the amount of exposure to normal tissues.
This means simply that we can increase the radiation to cancer tissues, and decrease the amount of radiation to normal tissues. This leads to better outcomes and cures for patients and less side effects like fatigue, nausea, and skin irritation.
The other unique thing about tomotherapy is that you can also take a CT Scan of the patient every single day prior to treatment. In doing so, it allows the doctors to see exactly where you cancer is from day to day, and then deliver the exact dose of radiation to that cancer site. Traditionally, doctors had to use boney landmarks and their knowledge of where organs should be located in the body to make sure that they were in the right area. Since you can now take a CT image prior to treatment, the doctors can see precisely where the tumor is on each and every day, and ensure that they are treating you exactly where you need to be treated.
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