Saint Mary’s adds cancer treatment equipment

Patients at Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center have a new cancer treatment option.

The Reno hospital last month installed a TrueBeam radiotherapy system.

The multi-million dollar machine is the most advanced technology for delivering radiation to tumors and is used to treat all kinds of cancer, including cancers of the lung, brain, liver, pancreas and prostate.

The TrueBeam joins the hospital’s CyberKnife system, available at Saint Mary’s since 2008 through a partnership with Reno CyberKnife.

The two radiation-delivery systems are similar but physicians say they complement rather than compete with one another.

“The combination of TrueBeam and CyberKnife brings our patients a level of sophistication in cancer treatment that rivals some of the most preeminent cancer treatment centers in the U.S.,” says Patty Sredy, administrative director of oncology services at Saint Mary’s Center for Cancer.

The pairing also provides the Prime Healthcare Services hospital something its main local rival, Reno’s Renown Health, doesn’t offer.

Renown installed a TrueBeam machine more than three years ago, being one of the first hospitals to add one. The system was developed and introduced by Varian Medical Systems Inc. in 2010. The equipment and software price tag runs about $7 million.

The CyberKnife is similarly priced and Saint Mary’s was the first hospital in Nevada to purchase one and so far the only facility in northern Nevada to house one.

The new TrueBeam has several advantages to older radiation technology.

The system provides three-dimensional imaging so physicians can see the tumor in 3D as its being treated and targeted. The machine uses a multi-leaf aperture system to shape the beam to fit the tumor so it can deliver radiation as precisely as possible, within under millimeters, to the cancer rather than hitting surround healthy tissue.

The technology also allows for movement — caused by breathing or other bodily functions — so the radiation continues to hit the tumor even when it’s a moving target.

“Previously, we accounted for tumor motion by making the treatment field bigger to allow for the tumor movement within the treatment field. Now, we can monitor and measure the motion better. The fields can be smaller with the motion monitoring technology,” says Katie Legarza, M.D., radiation oncologist, Saint Mary’s Center for Cancer. “For example, lung tumors move with respiratory motion. Now we can track the respiratory motion, thus the volume of normal lung tissue that we treat is less which translates into fewer side effects for the patient.”

Perhaps most advantageous to patients, TrueBeam performs several functions more quickly so the radiation treatment session takes a fraction of the time of conventionally-administered radiation.

“The radiation delivery, especially for the more complex plans would take 10 to 15 minutes in the past, but now, it can be delivered in under a few minutes,” says Legaraza. “The new technology has been especially beneficial to our pediatric patients as their anatomy is generally smaller making it more important to keep the fields as small as possible. Children have a harder time holding still so the delivery time of two to three minutes is even more critical for them.”

The software maintains an electronic record of all treatment so a patient’s history is readily accessible to any technicians or physicians.

Training to use the new equipment involved both classroom and on-the-job work. The hospital trained three physicians, four therapists, two physicists, and one dosimetrist were trained to use the Varian TrueBeam.

The machine is already in use and the group ramped up to 25 patients the first week of its operation.

The addition boosts Saint Mary’s profile in cancer treatment, although based on current rankings the two hospitals may be in a dead heat.

According to U.S. News and World Report 2015 ranking of national hospitals, Renown scored a 27 out of 100 under the cancer specialty compared to Saint Mary’s, which scored 27.3.

That compares to the top cancer hospitals in the nation, such as Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, which aced it with a score of 100 and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Which scored 93.4.

The highest-ranked Las Vegas cancer hospital in the magazine’s ranking is Mountain View Hospital, which scored 20.1.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment