|Dr. Won C. Park believes that cancer treatment begins with making patients comfortable.
“My ultimate goal is to restore patients’ dignity and peace of mind,” said the medical director of Mass. Oncology Services (formerly Valley Cancer Center), located at Holyoke Medical Center. “A hospital doesn’t have to look like a hospital. This could be a museum.”
One difference: museums tend to display artifacts of the past. Massachusetts Oncology Services speaks to the future, with equipment that’s decidedly 21st-century.
The prime example is the newest device, the Oncor linear accelerator built by Siemens, a world leader in cancer treatment equipment. Park has a philosophy he uses to encourage cancer patients, who may be facing the most difficult trial of their lives. It begins, “you have your own immune system and spontaneous healing power.Without it, no doctor can help you.”
In the linear accelerator, that natural strength now has a high-tech ally. A more advanced radiation-delivery machine than any in Western Mass., the device is intended to extend patients’ lives and facilitate more complete recovery by precisely targeting cancer cells while preserving healthy tissue.
“This will allow us to do image-guided radiation therapy, the most advanced kind,” said Muttasem Razzaq, the center’s medical physicist. In the past, radiation treatment plans were based on X-rays and CT scans — and the hope that the organs are in the same place every day, which isn’t true.
“With image-guided radiation therapy, we can monitor the motion of the internal organs for variation on a day-to-day basis, so we’re able to treat a precise area,”
azzaq explained. The technology even allows the technician to adapt for the chest movement caused by breathing during the treatment.
At the same time, the linear accelerator features intensity-modulated radiation therapy, which uses cutting-edge imaging technology to focus more closely on cancer-ridden areas than was possible a decade ago. The effects are two-fold: healthy cells aren’t dosed with unnecessary radiation, which in turn allows doctors to treat the cancerous tissue much more aggressively, with fewer side effects.
For example, Razzaq said, a man’s prostate is closely surrounded by other organs. “By honing in more closely on the prostate, we reduce the effects on the rectum and bladder, which don’t need any radiation. In the past, the healthy tissues have limited the radiation dose, but if you’re solely treating the tumor, you can theoretically go as high as you want, because that’s what you’re trying to kill.”