The Most Powerful Tool in the Fight Against Cancer is Only at St. Mary’s
It wasn’t the diagnosis that Danny Smith wanted to hear from his doctor—prostate cancer. But when his doctor gave him the news, Smith started searching for the best treatment options possible.
Although Smith had several options closer to his home near Portsmouth, he chose St. Mary’s Medical Center because it is the only facility in the region that offers the CyberKnife® robotic radiosurgery system.
CyberKnife is a non-invasive alternative to surgery for the treatment of both cancerous and non-cancerous tumors anywhere in the body, including the head, spine, lung, prostate, liver and pancreas.
“Instead of a scalpel, CyberKnife uses a very focused beam of radiation to obliterate the tumor,” said Sanjeev Sharma, M.D., board certified radiation oncologist at St. Mary’s Regional Cancer Center. “The advantage is in the precision of the delivery of radiation. It’s a very large dose to a strictly defined area.”
That precision was part of the appeal for Smith. “The idea of the pinpoint accuracy of CyberKnife. I liked that idea,” Smith said. “It was just targeting the cancer.”
The focus of CyberKnife has also allowed radiation oncologists at St. Mary’s to do things they’ve never done before. “It’s such an elegant way to treat tumors,” said Philip Lepanto, M.D., radiation oncologist at St. Mary’s. “There are situations which we can treat that we could not have treated before. For instance, tumors that would have been impossible or extremely risky to treat previously, because of proximity to critical structures, we can now treat with CyberKnife.”
During a CyberKnife treatment, the patient lies on the treatment table while the controlling computer maneuvers a robotic arm into the best position for administering the radiation. While many cancer treatments require patients to lie still or hold their breath, CyberKnife’s Synchrony Respiratory Tracking System automatically adjusts to breathing movements, which allows the patient to breathe normally during treatment.
Because CyberKnife uses such a large, focused dose of radiation, there are only one to five treatments total as opposed to 30-40 treatments with conventional radiation. That was a huge consideration for Smith. One of the facilities he visited would have done 45 days of treatment. “I didn’t want to get up every day for 45 days for treatment,” Smith said. “This was five treatments and it was over. You lay there and hear music, take a nap, whatever you want to do,” Smith said. “My wife was out in the lobby. They got her whatever she needed. It was not an inconvenience.”
Not being an inconvenience may seem like a strange thing to say about cancer treatments, but because there are generally only minimal side effects—both short-term and long-term—with CyberKnife, patients are usually able to get their treatments and then immediately resume their daily routine.
“Patients love the short time,” Dr. Lepanto said. “It’s a real benefit to them. We are tailoring the radiation to the amount of the disease. So we’re able to give a high dose and patients tolerate it extremely well. That’s what’s so great.”
St. Mary’s has been using CyberKnife since 2007. It remains one of the most advanced treatment modalities in Radiation Oncology and St. Mary’s is the only facility in the Tri-State area and West Virginia using it. Although it is mostly utilized for the treatment of cancers—especially lung, prostate and brain—the technology has had substantial success in treating other diseases.
Dr. Sharma said he has used CyberKnife to treat arteriovenous (AV) malformations, or abnormal connections between veins and arteries, that had never been treated with radiation in the Tri-State before. He has also used it to treat trigeminal neuralgia, a neuropathic disorder characterized by episodes of intense facial pain. And in addition to cancerous tumors, CyberKnife has also been used to reduce or stop the progression of benign tumors in the brain.
“We treat unusual tumors often only seen at large academic centers such as base of skull tumors, spinal tumors and tumors in difficult to operate locations,” Dr. Sharma said. “The utility of CyberKnife in the future is growing. It saves the patient from an invasive procedure and the toxicity is less.”
“We can treat cancer that comes back in places it had been before,” Dr. Lepanto said. “Before, that was thought to be too risky, but CyberKnife has reduced the risk.”
Both Dr. Sharma and Dr. Lepanto caution that CyberKnife is not for everyone. CyberKnife does not work in cases where both the primary tumor and the surrounding tissue or lymph nodes need to be treated. There are also some cancers that are treated better on a slower schedule with conventional radiation.
But for those cases that do qualify for the use of CyberKnife, the outcomes have been excellent. That includes the outcome for Smith. “I feel great today,” Smith said. “Everything went smoothly. Dr. Sharma is great. I don’t want to go to anyone else,” he said.
“Anyone that says they’re not worried when they’re told they have cancer, it’s not true,” Smith said. “The St. Mary’s team took away all the worries. It was just great.”
For more information about CyberKnife, contact Kimila Jones, CyberKnife nurse coordinator, at (304) 399-7460 or the St. Mary’s Regional Cancer Center at (304) 526-1349.