Millimeters matter: An accelerated vision

Categories: Other
Dr. Heather Morgan, Lead Radiation Oncologist, Sentara RMH Medical Center

 

Cancer outpaces national trends and kills more people in the Shenandoah Valley than any other cause of death. That’s why it seems like everywhere you turn you hear another story of someone being diagnosed.  Chances are you know someone personally who’s faced this dreaded disease.
Check out these alarming facts:
Between 2008 – 2012 over 3,000 people in our community died from cancer.

The need for cancer care throughout the country is projected to increase by 15% over the next 5 years, and 31% over the coming decade. Locally, there are expected to be almost 17,500 cases of cancer by 2020.

  • Close to 15,000 treatments per year (medical oncology and radiation oncology) are provided at the Sentara RMH Hahn Cancer Center.

 

The Bad News, the Good News

Cancer already has devastating repercussions in our community; and with a growing, aging population and increased screening capabilities, cancer cases continue to rise.

How can you help?

The Sentara RMH Hahn Cancer Center has a proud history of bringing compassionate, high-tech cancer care to people throughout the Shenandoah Valley. When it opened as the community’s first and only comprehensive cancer treatment center in 1989, people no longer had to leave our community for the life-saving care they needed. Instead, they could stay close to home near the support of their loved ones as they navigated their battle with cancer.

As cancer research has progressed over the years, charitable support has enabled our relatively small community to bring the benefits of that research home to the Shenandoah Valley. That means our family, friends and loved ones continue to have access to top-flight care.  Whether it was providing TomoTherapy eleven years ago, to more recently providing stereotactic radiosurgery to treat central nervous system cancers, cancer patients throughout our community have benefitted from advanced care you don’t normally find in a community our size.

But we now stand at a crossroads. More and more people are diagnosed each day, and an immediate investment is required for our community, and our patients whose lives depend on us, to stay at the forefront in the fight against cancer.

That is why we are seeking the community’s support to help transform the level of care available.

Millimeters matter: An accelerated vision | Transforming radiation therapy

We are on the cusp of technological advances that will exponentially elevate the level of care.

The Sentara RMH Hahn Cancer Center currently has two linear accelerators. A linear accelerator is the technology through which radiation therapy is delivered to attack and treat cancerous tumors.  A good rule of thumb for this type of equipment is that it will have a lifespan of ten years, yet one of these linear accelerators is now eleven years old.  Why does that matter?

It matters because old equipment breaks down more often. Think of when your car breaks down – it may be a quick fix or it may take several days to get the required parts in, but either way if it’s not working you’re not getting to where you need to be.  The difference with a linear accelerator is if it isn’t working you’re not getting to where you need to be with your cancer treatment.  That downtime causes more stress on the patient, causes delays and added stress on staff, and in extreme cases disrupts the prescribed treatment plan.

It also matters because the technology that comprises an eleven year old machine has been eclipsed by newer, state-of-the art technology that delivers better treatment. Here are just a few of the benefits of the new linear accelerator your investment will provide:

  • It provides the most precise treatment available | With radiation therapy, millimeters matter. The more accurate the treatment is the more assured you can be that you are killing cancerous cells and preserving healthy tissue.
  • The new linear accelerator comes equipped with a “couch” (the table you lay on while receiving treatment) that can rotate in any direction.       That increased mobility allows the radiation oncologist to deliver the radiation at the optimal angle depending on where the tumor is in a patient’s body.
  • Even further, the new linear accelerator is guided by an “optical surface monitoring system” (OSMS). While a patient is receiving radiation therapy, they are asked to stay completely still to ensure that the radiation beam accurately hits the targeted tumor. The problem is a single treatment can last 30 minutes or more. That is a long time to stay completely still under any circumstances, much less under the discomfort and anxiety of receiving radiation. So if and when a patient moves during treatment it means the treatment is less effective because the cancerous cells are no longer hit by the radiation and more healthy tissue is being killed than is necessary. However, the OSMS technology detects the slightest movement while a patient is receiving treatment and will shut down the radiation beam until the patient has stopped moving and the radiation beam is re-targeted.

 

 

  • It is safer and more comfortable for patients | The new linear accelerator can deliver a higher dose of radiation in a shorter period of time, resulting in significantly shorter treatment times. It could be the difference between a 45-minute treatment using older technology versus a 20-minute treatment on the new machine. When you are already dealing with the stress of cancer treatment, the less time you have to endure the treatment the better off you are. Shorter treatment times mean less time laying on the table, less time being asked to stay completely still, less time being exposed to radiation, less time in the Cancer Center, and more time with family and friends. What more valuable gift can be given to someone undergoing cancer treatment than more time to use as you wish?

 

  • It allows more patients to receive the treatment they need | The efficiencies with the new technology are indeed so great that it would change the way patients are scheduled, increasing capacity to be able to care for more people. With a community that is both growing and aging, the capacity to care for more people is more critical than ever.

When you add it all up, it means more lives will be saved. What more valuable investment could you possibly make?

This project will only be possible if the community provides $2 million in philanthropic investments.

This community has long supported the advancement of cancer care locally. That support has given hope and enabled compassionate care to countless people during one of life’s most difficult times.  As our community grows and ages, having topflight cancer care locally will be more important than ever.  Your generosity today will build on the community’s proud legacy of compassionate care, help us provide the best treatment available today, and prepare us for tomorrow and beyond.