Beam On

With TrueBeam, Mary Greeley Medical Center takes cancer treatment to a new level.

Margaret Mumma had a choice: start radiation treatment for breast cancer on April 9, or wait a week.

It was a no-brainer. She waited a week.

Mumma and Rhoades

Margaret Mumma, seen here with Dr. Rhoades,
was the first patient treated with TrueBeam.

Here's why: In April, the William R. Bliss Cancer Center at Mary Greeley Medical Center began offering cancer patients cutting-edge treatment with TrueBeam radiotherapy technology.

Mary Greeley is the second hospital in the state to have TrueBeam, which uses noninvasive tumor-destroying radiation to treat cancers throughout the body, while minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissue.

A Pioneer

On April 16, Margaret became the first patient treated with TrueBeam at Mary Greeley. TrueBeam's higher energy allowed Margaret to do her treatment in 20 sessions instead of the usual 33. She also suffered none of the burning or redness that can result from radiation treatment.

"There was some trepidation at first because it was new to the staff," says Margaret. "But the Radiation Oncology Team was wonderful to me, and once treatment began I realized everything was going to be fine."

More Comfort for Cancer Patients

In addition to TrueBeam, the William R. Bliss Cancer Center has another powerful linear accelerator used for radiation oncology. A patient's physician will determine which machine provides the most appropriate treatment based on the patient's type of cancer. But, TrueBeam has clear benefits.

"With TrueBeam, we are able to deliver radiation therapy faster and more precisely," says Shane Hopkins, M.D., a McFarland Clinic radiation oncologist who treats patients through the Bliss Center, which is jointly operated by McFarland and Mary Greeley. "This increases the options we have available in caring for our patients."

One of the primary benefits for patients is that treatment takes less time and is, therefore, much more comfortable. Traditional radiation oncology treatments can take more than an hour to administer and sometimes require daily appointments for weeks. And because radiation therapy requires patients to remain still while treatment is being delivered, the shorter the "table time" —the amount of time the patient spends lying on the table in the treatment room—the better.

The TrueBeam can deliver radiation as much as seven times faster than conventional radiotherapy. This is particularly important for newer therapies in which fewer treatments and a larger dose are used. With the addition of the TrueBeam, the William R. Bliss Cancer Center now has two linear accelerators available.

"We have always been able to treat patients very effectively—that's not the issue," says Joseph Rhoades, M.D., a McFarland Clinic radiation oncologist with the Bliss Center. "This just delivers the dose of radiation so quickly that patient comfort is dramatically improved. And that comfort cannot be understated when you are providing care to cancer patients."

Complex Care Close to Home

Margaret is from Jefferson. She does bookkeeping for her husband Michael's law practice, and is involved with her grandchildren, her church, the PEO organization, and the U.S. Senior Challenge Golf Tournament. She's a busy woman, so being able to have advanced treatment for breast cancer so close to home was important.

Back in January, Margaret had a mammogram at the McFarland Clinic in Jefferson. It revealed something small but suspicious in her left breast, so she was asked to come back for another look. A tumor was found and later biopsied. It was malignant.

Margaret has a history of breast cancer in her family. "It wasn’t a matter of if I would get breast cancer, but when," she says.

She was referred to McFarland surgeon Dr. Mark Taylor, who, because of her history, ordered an MRI. That test revealed another tumor in Margaret's right breast, which turned out to be benign. In February, Taylor performed lumpectomies on both breasts, as well as removal of the sentinel node on Margaret's left side.

After she and her husband, Michael, enjoyed a long vacation in Hawaii, Margaret prepared for radiation treatment.

Protecting the Heart

Special care is needed when treating a tumor on the left side of the body because the heart can be close to the area being treated. But with TrueBeam, imaging of the area can be done quickly and easily so you can always make sure the heart is well away from the treatment field, says Rhoades, who treated Margaret.

"This will also allow us to treat more complex cancers," adds Rhoades, who partners to provide care with Hopkins and Gregory Yee, M.D.

"Patients we may have had to refer to larger hospitals in the past can now receive leading-edge treatment here. Cutting down on travel is a huge benefit for patients and families battling cancer."

Two out of three people who are diagnosed with cancer undergo some form of radiotherapy as part of their treatment, according to the American Society for Radiation Oncology. In simplest terms, radiotherapy uses beams of radiation to destroy cancer cells. TrueBeam offers a number of advanced functions that allow for faster, more accurate treatment, including intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) and image-guided radiotherapy (IGRT).

IMRT is a treatment technique where doctors customize the radiation dose affecting normal parts of the body by varying the amount of radiation delivered. IGRT uses advanced imaging so doctors and clinicians can visualize the tumor. This allows for verification of the exact location of the tumor so it can be precisely targeted.

Advanced Flexibility

"Radiation oncology is a proven and very effective therapy," Hopkins says. "As a result, there has been a tremendous amount of advancement in the technology. But with that, it has been kind of disjointed. Not until the introduction of TrueBeam has there been a linear accelerator that offered hardware and software engineered hand-in-hand, digitally from beginning to end."

That concerted development truly sets the TrueBeam apart.

"Because of the way the TrueBeam is designed, we can add new treatment options to the machine as they are introduced," says Brian MacPhail, a board-certified medical physicist at William R. Bliss Cancer Center. MacPhail works closely with the physicians and staff to determine the proper amount of radiation to deliver during treatment and is responsible for quality control with the linear accelerators.

"This flexibility," MacPhail continues, "ensures we can offer state-of-the-art treatment for the life of the machine."

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