DMH News

New Radiation Technology to Fight Cancer in Decatur


By Edward Elliott, MD
DMH Radiation Oncologist

Decatur, IL - The American Cancer Society estimates that about 60,000 people living in Illinois will be diagnosed with cancer this year.

Cancer patients at Decatur Memorial Hospital now have access to SmartBeam™ IMRT – Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy, a state-of-the-art cancer treatment method that delivers high doses of radiation directly to cancer cells more precisely than possible before with conventional radiotherapy.

IMRT is considered the most precise and sophisticated cancer treatment available and is the standard of care for cancers in hard-to-treat areas such as the head and neck, rectum, pancreas, prostate, breast, lung, and others where precisely placed beams are needed to target tumor cells without harming surrounding healthy tissue. Beams of radiation can be focused as small as the tip of a pencil.

A revolution in planning and delivering radiation, the SmartBeam® IMRT system is a highly precise form of three-dimensional radiotherapy, which uses computers and multiple beams to "shape" radiation to the treatment area. IMRT also helps "turn up" the radiation dose on certain areas while avoiding healthy tissues and sensitive regions.

Radiation therapy is used today in more than half of all cancer treatments because of its unique, clinical advantages, and it is becoming steadily more effective with new technologies like IMRT that use ultra-precise dose delivery. We now have the potential to improve cure rates and improve patient comfort as we deliver more powerful doses to cancer tumors while protecting the surrounding healthy tissues.

A key element in the IMRT therapy is the Varian’s Clinac® Medical Linear Accelerator. This machine stands approximately nine feet tall by nearly 15 feet long and weighs about 18,700 pounds. It generates high energy X-rays by using microwave energy to accelerate electrons to nearly the speed of light. As the electrons reach maximum speed, they collide with a metal target to release photons (or X-rays). The accelerator rotates around the patient to deliver the radiation treatments from nearly any angle.

The linear accelerator is outfitted with a multi-leaf collimator which has computer-controlled mechanical "leaves" or "fingers," used to shape the beam of radiation so that it conforms to the three-dimensional shape of the tumor.

New software also makes it possible for clinicians to plan, simulate, and deliver IMRT and other kinds of ultra-precise cancer care. The new software lets us fuse together MRI, CT and PET images to provide a detailed picture of the patient’s anatomy to plan a comprehensive strategy for their treatment.

The SmartBeam™IMRT, the Varian’s Clinac® Medical Linear Accelerator, and the new software are now available for cancer patients, and in use by the Radiation Oncologists, at Decatur Memorial Hospital.