CyberKnife technology offers new option for cancer patients

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On November 26, 2009, Ontario marked a milestone with the announcement of the province’s first CyberKnife Robotic Radiosurgery treatment option for cancer patients at Juravinski Cancer Centre. The technology will offer many cancer patients an effective alternative to surgery for some cancers.

The technology is the world’s first and only robotic radiosurgery system and it is designed to treat tumors anywhere in the body with sub-millimeter accuracy. Within Canada, this form of radiation therapy is only available at one Quebec cancer centre and is new to Ontario.

“The addition of the CyberKnife to Ontario is great news for cancer patients,” says Terrence Sullivan, President and CEO, Cancer Care Ontario. “This new technology allows a level of precision that is not currently available for some cancer patients, especially for those who have tumours which are considered inoperable or surgically complex.”

Unlike a traditional radiation treatment machine, which delivers radiation in a linear way, the CyberKnife system has a robotic arm which can move around the patient to deliver radiation. It has a sophisticated tracking system that uses X-rays to ensure that the radiation beam is directed precisely where the patient requires treatment. In addition, this image-guided approach continually corrects for any movement, such as breathing, helping to ensure that the beam is optimally positioned during the entire treatment.

The CyberKnife system uses larger doses of radiotherapy per treatment, with each session lasting 30 to 90 minutes. This means that most patients will require only one to five treatments, compared to 20 to 30 treatments for conventional radiotherapy. Additionally, because the system is so precise, tissues and organs around the tumour and in the path of each beam receive very little radiation.

“The Juravinski Cancer Centre is renowned for our expertise in clinical trials and evaluating shorter, more effective radiation treatments for cancer patients,” says Dr. Bill Evans, President of the Juravinski Cancer Centre. “We’re looking forward to developing further research into the use of this technology to decrease treatment time for patients with cancers of the prostate and breast.”

The Juravinski Cancer Centre Foundation raised approximately $1 million towards the cost of the CyberKnife which will replace an older piece of equipment currently at the hospital. It will be available for patient use in spring 2010.

“We are grateful and thrilled with the generous support we’ve received from Mischa Weisz, SC Johnson Canada and other supporters of the Juravinski Cancer Centre Foundation who have made the acquisition of the CyberKnife possible,” says Pearl Veenema, President and CEO, Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation.

Mischa Weitz, a Hamilton businessman who died of cancer in October 2009 at age 53, contributed $500,000 to the CyberKnife. “He didn’t win his own battle, but he knew his gift would ensure that other families and patients would win their battles,” says his wife, Connie Weisz. SC Johnson Canada, Brantford donated $250,000 to the cause.

A selection process was held by Cancer Care Ontario to determine the location of host centres for this technology. After evaluating applications, an expert panel selected Juravinski Cancer Centre to be one of two sites in Ontario, with the Ottawa Hospital also in line to host the Cyberknife technology. “The expert panel chose the Juravinski Cancer Centre because of its terrific program in general but also because of the terrific Radiation program led by Dr. Tim Whelan,” says Michael Sherrar, Vice President, Planning and Regional Programs, Cancer Care Ontario. “Of all the regions in Canada, the JCC in Hamilton is consistently at the top for improving the cancer system.”