SHEFFIELD — Cancer treatments that were previously only available by traveling outside the Shoals can now be administered closer to home.
Valley Regional Cancer Center in Sheffield has invested in equipment that provides the capability to treat tumors with more painless and accurate treatments, said Dr. Stanley Clarke, the center’s medical director.
The radiation treatment clinic has installed a 4-D CT scanner that provides more accurate imaging of tumors. Clarke said better imaging provides better views of tumors and thus more accurate radiation treatment.
“What we do in radiotherapy is hit the target,” Clarke said, adding better images makes the target easier to hit.
The 4-D CT scanner also captures internal movements of tumors, such as how the tumor moves on the lung when a patient breathes. That allows the radiation beams to be programmed to emit only when the tumor is in the target range, Clarke said.
He said having more precise radiation beams lessens impact on surrounding tissue.
Valley Regional, a private company affiliated with Helen Keller Hospital in Sheffield, said it is the only medical facility in northwest Alabama that has the equipment.
To complement the new technology, Valley Regional Cancer Center upgraded its linear accelerate, the piece of medical equipment that delivers the radiation beam.
Clarke said the upgraded machine at the center is image-guided and delivers more direct dose of radiation to the infected area.
“We look to do the greatest amount of good with the least amount of harm to the healthy tissue and organs,” Clarke said.
Clarke gave the example of radiation treatment in prostate cancer to illustrate the possible long-term effects of radiation therapy on healthy organs. He said the bladder and rectum are in close proximity to the prostate and some patients have experienced damage to those areas because of radiation therapy.
With the new linear accelerator, the possibilities of such side effects are reduced, Clarke said.
“We are talking about millimeters of accuracy,” he said.
Valley Regional Cancer Center is on the Helen Keller Hospital campus. Keller CEO Doug Arnold said the addition of the new treatment option is a key step in the full implementation of the hospital’s planned cancer institute.
The hospital’s cancer institute consists of a nurse navigator program to guide patients through the cancer treatment process, a tumor board of physicians that collaborate on patient care plans, and a cancer committee that guides the hospital’s efforts to become certified by the American College of Surgeons.
“The health care climate is in uncertain times, but Helen Keller Hospital is moving forward with new treatment options and service lines,” Arnold said. “We are constantly looking ahead for ways to improve the health of our community ...”
Clarke said convenience is another offering of the new equipment.
“One of the most gratifying aspects of this is we have patients that are now able to stay at home for treatment,” Clarke said. “The nature of radiation therapy is that you are treated every day for six weeks. Having to travel a great distance for that treatment creates a burden.”
Jennifer Edwards can be reached at 256-740-5754 or jennifer.edwards@TimesDaily.com.