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Patient Question

What Should You Know About RapidArc® - a Technological Breakthrough in Cancer Treatment?



Professor, Chair and Clinical Director of Radiation Oncology
Expert Answer

Recent reports show that the cancer survival rates in the U.S. have continued to rise, attributed not only to innovation but also to development of better and safer ways of delivering existing therapies. Stony Brook University Medical Center remains at the forefront of the efforts. We spoke with Allen G. Meek, MD, Chair and Clinical Director of the Department of Radiation Oncology, about RapidArc® - a technological breakthrough being used at Stony Brook University Medical Center-and how it is changing cancer treatment.

What is RapidArc®?
RapidArc® is a radiotherapy technology that is among the most advanced forms of intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). IMRT is a computer-based form of radiotherapy that allows radiation oncologists to send external beams in the 3-D shape of tumors in small multiple doses with precision.

How does RapidArc® work?
First, it uses computed tomography (CT) or other imaging technology to pinpoint a tumor. Then, the technology system uses this image to guide the radiation beam to the tumor in one or two rotations of the machine around the patient. During treatment, the radiation beam is shaped and reshaped as it continuously delivers beams at virtually every angle in a 360-degree revolution. In short, it allows us to deliver a high dose of radiation to kill or sterilize cancer cells in an extremely precise, targeted manner, which spares healthy tissues from damage.

Why is this considered a breakthrough?
For two important reasons. One, because this delivery system is easier on patients. RapidArc® delivers beams two to eight times faster than conventional radiotherapy, so patients do not have to hold still for long periods of time. This, in turn, makes patients more comfortable and improves the quality of care. There is less of a chance that patients will shift or move, so the radiation is more highly targeted.

Second, this precision of delivery means that the radiation goes to where it is needed-the tumor and not the healthy tissue surrounding it. As a result, patients tend to have less intense side effects and can participate more fully in their daily lives during treatment. In the near future, as RapidArc® allows radiation oncologists to get even more precise in the delivery of radiation, they may be able to use even higher doses, which may help control the cancer and prevent it from spreading outside the original tumor site.

Which types of cancers can be treated with RapidArc®?
Currently, we are using this form of IMRT primarily for patients with brain, head and neck, lung, prostate, and spine cancers.

Where is this treatment available?
In Suffolk County, Stony Brook University Medical Center is the only hospital with this technology. To date, more than 150 patients have been treated with this breakthrough system and it is just one of many advanced treatments available through our Department of Radiation Oncology. As part of our role as a cancer referral center and a regional leader in radiation oncology, the Department has invested in the best state-of-the-art radiation technology, equipment and systems. We use the most advanced treatment planning and information management software to provide an integrated network for fast, efficient radiation planning and treatment that minimizes waiting time. We believe this is important not only for the best possible outcomes but also for the best quality of life for patients undergoing cancer treatment.

What other state-of-the-art radiation therapies are available at Stony Brook?
Stony Brook is also a leader in image-guided hypofractionated stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT). With SBRT, the patient is comfortably immobilized to prevent motion and one to five high dose radiation treatments are delivered to small tumors (less than two inches), both primary and metastatic. Tumor targeting is verified real time either by a cone beam CT scan or x-ray guidance. We can even program the radiotherapy to match a patient's breathing cycle. In the past, because of movement caused by the patient's normal breathing patterns, we would need to use lower radiation doses over a wider area to accommodate the movement. Today, we can deliver a much higher dose of targeted radiation in just one to five treatments versus 25 to 35 treatments of the traditional lower dose regimens. This is of benefit to the patient - not only does the patient have to come in for fewer treatments, but there are fewer side effects, including less damage to healthy tissue surrounding the tumor.

For Additional Information Contact (631) 444-4000

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