New radiation treatment uses leading-edge technology

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The Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario at Kingston General Hospital recently performed its first high dose rate brachytherapy radiation treatment using the newest and most innovative technology. The Flexitron – the piece of equipment used to deliver the treatment – is the first of its kind in North America. Its technology allows increased comfort and convenience for patients.

Brachytherapy is a type of radiation treatment that is delivered internally to a body cavity or tissue by inserting radioactive isotopes. This treatment is often used for women who have had a hysterectomy because of uterine cancer. Some of these women remain at risk of cancer returning within the pelvis. Radiation is given to decrease the chance of recurrence.

Brachytherapy has been used to treat gynecological cancers at the cancer centre for many years. In the past, however, low dose rate radioactive isotopes were used. While highly effective, treatment with low dose rate isotopes takes a few days to deliver. “This meant that the patient was restricted to a hospital bed for two to three days to receive the treatment,” says radiation oncologist Dr. Wendy Shelley. “The treatment was, therefore, inconvenient and uncomfortable for the patient and also expensive because of the hospital care required.”

With the new technology using high dose rate radioactive isotopes, the treatment can be given much faster and does not require hospitalization. “Now we are able to offer an equally effective treatment with a procedure that can be done as an outpatient,” says Wendy. “Patients now get three treatments at weekly intervals and each one takes about 15 minutes. It is much more convenient and comfortable for the patient.”

“The Flexitron allows us to deliver radioactive material to the patient and adhere to safety and quality guidelines,” says medical physicist Dr. John Schreiner. “It also uses specialized software to calculate the specific dose delivery for each individual patient.”

Radiation therapy and medical devices are highly regulated by Health Canada and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Staff were specially trained to use the new equipment and the treatment room was modified to include the added protection needed to deliver high dose rates of radiation.

“Extensive testing of the equipment and software and of the dose delivery over the last few months was conducted to ensure accurate treatment,” Dr. Schreiner adds. A key benefit of the Flexitron is that it offers several options for treatments. “We are very fortunate to be able to use this new technology. It allows greater flexibility in the way we deliver treatment and gives the ability to use it for other types of cancer in the future.”