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New treatment added to WMC cancer program

Neurosurgeon Allan Fergus, from left, radiation oncologist Bruce Flax and neurosurgeon Lee Selznick are shown by a linear accelerator in Winchester Medical Center's Radiation Oncology Department. The doctors have been trained to administer an advanced technology treatment to some cancer patients at the hospital. Courtesy photo.

By Kim Walter

Winchester Medical Center recently has expanded its cancer program with the addition of an advanced treatment option, thanks to a partnership between the hospital and the University of Virginia Health System.

The services include stereotactic radiosurgery and stereotactic body radiotherapy, which mostly focus on the treatment of brain, spine and certain lung cancers.

Radiosurgery, a non-surgical procedure, delivers large doses of precisely targeted radiation to "small" tumors in the brain, head, neck, lung or elsewhere in the body.

Dr. Bruce Flax, radiation oncologist and co-medical director of Valley Health's oncology service line, said the new treatment will impact a minority of local cancer patients, but that number could increase over time.

"We used to have to send patients elsewhere to get something like this done, so it will definitely make a big difference to those folks since it'll be available right here at home," Flax said Friday afternoon. "It's still new, but I suspect the case load volume could increase as we become more familiar with it."

Besides reducing travel time, the treatment offers a variety of other benefits for patients.

Because the radiation is so localized, Flax said the radiosurgery is a more precise than any other way of delivering treatment. Additionally, less areas around the tumor are exposed to radiation, sparing critical organs and healthy tissue.

Each session usually takes anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. Patients may have a single treatment or multiple treatments over time.

Treatments will take place in the WMC Radiation Oncology Department. Specially fitted face masks or frames may be required for treatment of cranial or extra-cranial tumors. Four-dimensional CT imaging, which captures the location and movement of a tumor, will help the radiation oncologist, physicist and other staff to ensure accurate treatment.

One of the department's linear accelerators, which produce a targeted beam of high energy X-rays, has already been outfitted for radiosurgery with a robotic couch to facilitate delivery of radiation beams from different angles.

Flax, along with neurosurgeons Lee Selznick and Allan Fergus had to complete specialized training in Chicago over a period of several days to be able to oversee the stereotactic procedures.

"A lot of that was learning to use the computer program and implementing a planning process," Flax said. "Thankfully most of it was an extension of what I already new, but it was very interesting."

While Flax said he's hoped to see the treatment move locally for some time, he worried that the volume of patients it would impact might be too small. But now, by collaborating with "nationally recognized leaders in stereotactic radiosurgery" the advanced technology is sure to be well used.

"It really is the preferred method when it meets all the requirements," he said. "This will create better results in less time with less side effects, so it's a win-win over all."

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com


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