Faster, more precise radiation treatments for cancer given to first patient in San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO (April 22, 2009) – A faster and more precise way to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors with radiation was used on a patient for the first time in San Antonio today at the Cancer Therapy and Research Center (CTRC) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

A 67-year-old Air Force veteran with prostate cancer was the first person to be treated with CTRC’s Varian Trilogy™ linear accelerator with RapidArc™ technology. It took under two minutes for the system to deliver the high-energy X-rays to treat the patient. The machine makes a single revolution around the patient while aiming very small radiation beams – the size of a pencil tip – —at the tumor with varying levels of intensity and from multiple angles. Typical radiation therapy of this type, known as IMRT or intensity-modulated radiation therapy, takes about 10 minutes, because the machine has to stop at numerous intervals as it rotates around the patient.

“A two-minute treatment time means patients do not have to hold still for long, thus reducing the likelihood that patients’ movements could compromise the pinpoint accuracy of the radiation dose,” says Chul S. Ha, M.D., professor and chairman of the radiation oncology department at the UT Health Science Center. He adds that the reduction in treatment time provides more comfort for the patient.

RapidArc high-definition technology makes treatments more precise by shaping the radiation beam so that it conforms closely to the tumor’s three-dimensional shape. Right before treatment, technicians use imaging equipment to view the tumor’s exact location, size and shape. The patient lies on a robotically-controlled table that can be adjusted by touching a button and will align the patient on as many as six different planes (up and down, front and back, left and right) to the precise treatment position.

“Our goal is to deliver the lowest dose possible to the healthy tissue surrounding the tumor, while maximizing the radiation to the cancerous cells of the tumor,” says medical physicist Nikos Papanikolaou, Ph.D., professor of radiation oncology at the UT Health Science Center and chief of the radiation physics division. “RapidArc™ is a revolutionary way to deliver efficient and painless radiation treatments. We are very excited to offer this technology to South Texas.”

More than 90 percent of patients with early stage prostate cancer, such as the one treated today, are cured by radiation therapy.

The CTRC at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio purchased the multi-million dollar linear accelerator “as part of its continuing investment in state-of-the-art technology to provide hope for the people of South Texas battling cancer,” Dr. Ha said. RapidArc will be used to treat not only prostate cancer but also cancers of the brain, spine, liver and lung.

The Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is one of the nation’s leading academic research and treatment centers, serving more than 4.4 million people in the high-growth corridor of Central and South Texas including Austin, San Antonio, Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley. CTRC is one of a few elite cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute (NCI) Designated Cancer Center, and is one of only three in Texas. A world leader in developing new drugs to treat cancer, The CTRC Institute for Drug Development (IDD) is internationally recognized for conducting the largest oncology Phase I clinical drug trials program in the world, and participates in the clinical and/or preclinical development of many of the cancer drugs approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. For more information, visit the Web site at

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