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HCC, VA partner on targeted radiation
Elected officials and top oncologists arrived at Hollings Cancer Center
Jan. 31 to celebrate a device that more accurately and narrowly targets
cancers of all types to improve the outcomes and lives of citizens and
veterans in the Lowcountry.
The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center and Hollings Cancer Center (HCC)
partnered to bring TomoTherapy, a $3.5 million precision radiation
therapy device, to Charleston where the VA Medical Center and MUSC
health care providers will collaborate on treatment of patients from
therapists Autumn Boggs, left, and Sandy Hickman prepare a patient for
a head and neck treatment using TomoTherapy.
Located in the HCC, the TomoTherapy Hi-Art Treatment System is one of
just two available in South Carolina, and one of only 150 medical sites
in the world with the technology. Since it was installed last fall, the
device has enabled more patients to be treated with better outcomes.
“Since we started in November, we have treated 24 patients,” said
Loretta Lighthart, radiation therapist. “We are treating an average of
12 a day now, and we could be looking at treating as many as 16 to 18
patients in one day.”
Working with Rep. Henry Brown (R-S.C.) to obtain federal funding for
the technology, the VA Medical Center and HCC collaborated to bring
TomoTherapy to patients because of its ability to target tumors of all
sizes throughout the body with exceptional accuracy while minimizing
damage to surrounding tissue.
On Nov. 21, Anthony Mazak, a Vietnam era veteran from St. Stephen,
became the first veteran treated with TomoTherapy.
“It was pain-free and fast,” said Mazak, now a chaplain of the Diocese
of the Southeast of the Reform Episcopal Church in Summerville. “I had
35 visits between Nov. 1 and Jan. 21. It would take a total of 15
minutes for each visit. The actual treatment was like ‘zap,’ and took
only about two minutes.”
A year ago while in seminary, “I noticed a lump on my right shoulder
that got bigger, to the point that it made my skin shine,” he said. “I
knew it wasn’t right, especially when I felt the pain.”
Doctors removed the mass and diagnosed Mazak with a carcinoma in his
Throughout the treatment, Mazak said he never experienced the fatigue,
nausea or depression that many undergoing cancer treatment experience.
“I give credit to the staff here,” Mazak said. “Dr. [Jill] Harper [HCC
oncologist] was awesome. The holistic approach and treatment from
everybody—the receptionist, the parking attendant, and the support
system—is to what I attribute my success. I also follow the doctor’s
advice to a T, which always begins with prayer and is accompanied by
A reliable advocate for veterans, Brown said that such a service would
help honor the many current and former soldiers living in the
Lowcountry by providing them with the best medical care available
anywhere. In Charleston, he said, the collaboration between the VA and
MUSC has made the city a model, replacing New Orleans, as the benchmark
among cities with federal and state health facilities working together.
“It just makes sense to enhance health care services between the two
institutions and combine resources to help our veterans and citizens
with the best treatment available anywhere,” Brown said. “The
TomoTherapy system is the most recent in a series of treatment and
research projects that have been funded by the VA and MUSC. I am proud
to have been an early advocate of the collaborative efforts between
these two outstanding health care institutions.”
The device is considered to be “the most important breakthrough in
radiation therapy in the past few years,” said Joseph Jenrette, M.D.,
chair of MUSC’s Department of Radiation Oncology. “It provides the most
accurate treatment available for some cancers. … This is a win-win day
for both of us at the VA and Hollings Cancer Center.”
TomoTherapy, currently used for tumors of the head and neck, brain,
lung/chest wall, pancreas, lymph nodes, spine, prostate, abdomen, and
rectum, augments the cancer treatment protocols both facilities offer.
“It’s like a CT scanner, but instead of just taking pictures, it treats
the patient at the same time, using a thin beam that rotates
360-degrees around the body delivering precise treatment while avoiding
surrounding tissue and organs. The use of CT imaging allows treatment
teams to evaluate the tumor daily and refine the dosage as necessary,”
Jenrette said. “It offers us much greater flexibility. We can treat
bone marrow and miss the bone. We can treat the bone and spine without
having to move the patient.”
New uses of the therapy could lead to new treatment protocols in which
patients receive stronger doses for fewer days, Jenrette said.
Typically, patients receiving radiation therapy, via TomoTherapy or
conventional means, do so daily for five to 35 days.
Meanwhile, physicians from both facilities are collaborating to develop
new protocols to enhance patients’ quality of life, said Anand Sharma,
M.D., vice chairman of Clinical Affairs, and associate professor of
Radiation Oncology and Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery. “This
device certainly improves the quality of life for the patient by
cutting down the side effects of other therapies,” Sharma said.
The new technology will be used to train residents and medical students
in the most advanced treatments for patients in South Carolina and
neighboring states. And while new uses are being developed for
TomoTherapy, HCC continues to offer conventional radiation with the
linear accelerator. Teams of experts that include physicians,
physicists, and radiation therapists develop treatment protocols based
on an individual patient’s diagnosis.
Friday, Feb. 8, 2008
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