Updated: May 18, 2021
JPS Health Network Performs First On-Site Stereotactic Radiosurgery Procedure Cancer patients now have access to top cancer-fighting technology at the JPS Health Network Center for Oncology and Infusion.
JPS oncologists performed stereotactic radiosurgery on-site for the first time last week with the assistance of a linear accelerator that JPS leaders have been working for years to acquire and set up. According to Bassam Ghabach, Medical Director for Oncology, the health network previously contracted for the stereotactic radiosurgery, sending patients to other hospitals when they required it.
“It’s a very precise procedure that shrinks tumors without disturbing the surrounding tissue,” Ghabach explained of the procedure which, despite its name, does not include an incision, anesthesia or the pain that accompanies a traditional operation. “This is something we have been working on being able to provide to our patients for a long time.”
A linear accelerator is a machine that creates precise beams of radiation to fight cancer, according to Ghabach. It beams radiation from several different directions at the same time and the individual beams don’t damage the tissue they pass through because they’re relatively low intensity. Where they intersect inside the tumor, the beams work together to shrink cancer cells and disrupt their ability to reproduce. While stereotactic radiosurgery can trace its roots back more than 50 years, Ghabach said computer technology has increased its usefulness and effectiveness greatly in recent years.
By adding this technology and performing the procedure ourselves, we have made it accessible to many people who couldn’t get it before. We’re going to be able to help a lot of patients in ways we never could in the past.
Plans were in the works to add stereotactic radiosurgery at the health network prior to the opening of the new Center for Oncology and Infusion last May, according to Patrick Makarewich, Service Line Administrator for Oncology. The Linear Accelerator is so complicated and time consuming to set up that it was decided to wait to install it in the new facility – instead of building it into the old cancer center, only to disassemble and move it across town a few months later. It’s taken a year to get the $3.5 million worth of machinery dialed in and ready to go after relocation.
“It’s so satisfying to see our first patient benefit from this equipment after all the work that went on behind the scenes to get to this point,” Makarewich said.
Patient Isabella Mitaki was the first person to receive the procedure at JPS. With stage IV metastatic breast cancer that spread to her brain, she was laid on a table beneath a linear accelerator, which is a machine that generates intense beams of radiation. A group of 15 doctors and other cancer care providers gathered around monitors to watch the procedure. One of them asked “is everyone ready to see JPS history?” just before pushing the start button. As Mitaki stayed still, the equipment rotated around her body, delivering an intense beam of radiation sculpted with 3D mapping to target only her tumor while avoiding her brain tissue as much as possible. Instead of requiring incredibly invasive brain surgery, the procedure was over in about three minutes.
Ghabach said patients feel no pain during stereotactic radiosurgery. When it’s over, they go about their day as they otherwise would.
After previously undergoing traditional brain surgery, Mitaki said she was grateful to have the stereotactic procedure as an option.
“When the doctors talked to me about doing this procedure, I was relieved and satisfied,” Mitaki said, adding that the tumor in her brain has caused one of her legs to weaken, making it difficult to walk. “It’s wonderful to have an option that only takes a few minutes and then I can go home.”
Radiation Oncologist Marta Dahiya, who designed the program loaded into the linear accelerator to treat Mitaki’s tumor, said it’s important for JPS patients to have stereotactic radiosurgery available on-site. She said the procedure is expensive when it’s contracted out – Mitaki’s three-minute procedure would have cost about $50,000 – and many of the people who come to the health network for cancer treatment don’t have insurance. For them, stereotactic radiosurgery wasn’t an option until now.
“By adding this technology and performing the procedure ourselves, we have made it accessible to many people who couldn’t get it before,” Dahiya said. “We’re going to be able to help a lot of patients in ways we never could in the past.”