Palo Alto Medical Foundation Newsroom

Precision, Speed Major Assets of New Radiosurgery System

Radiation oncologists at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) are now using the latest Varian RapidArc® Radiosurgery TrueBeam™ STx system – a highly precise, faster and noninvasive way of excising tumors using carefully shaped high-energy X-ray beams.

RapidArc radiotherapy is fast and accurate, and delivers a complete treatment during one or more continuous rotations around the patient.

RapidArc radiotherapy is fast and accurate, and delivers a complete treatment during one or more continuous rotations around the patient.

RapidArc treatment is delivered with a single 360-degree rotation of the linear accelerator, which takes less than two minutes – two to eight times faster than other radiosurgery systems. The increased speed of the treatment is a benefit to both the patient and the doctors. Shorter treatments improve patient comfort who must remain completely still during the procedure. It also reduces anxiety from longer treatment sessions.

Since a patient spends less time holding still, it will be easier to avoid movements that could compromise the accuracy of the treatment.

“This technology is amazingly accurate,” says Pauling Chang, M.D., a radiation oncologist at PAMF for 13 years, who practices at the Palo Alto Center. “It allows us to treat tumors not easily accessible with traditional surgery, anywhere in the body, including delicate and hard-to-reach places like the brain, spine, liver or lungs. It is wonderful to see patients undergo this radiotherapy then get up and say, ‘That was it?’ then go on with their day.”

Precise and Non-Invasive

Shuping Tam is a very active person. She works in high tech networking systems and manages heavy loads of orders and emails. A fitness buff, Shuping exercises every day. She was surprised by her diagnosis of a 2.5 centimeter tumor deep behind her ear. In June 2013, she had three consecutive radiotherapy treatments to eliminate the tumor.

“For the first treatment, I was a little nervous, but afterwards I got up and felt okay. I could do anything. I went out to lunch after my 11 a.m. treatment then back to work. That night I joined my husband for a one-hour kickboxing class,” Tam said. “On the second and third days, it was the same. I had my treatment, went to work then played tennis in the evening. My husband was worried but I felt fine!”

“Every day, Dr. Chang called to see how I felt and I was fine – no lost memory or lost energy. I really liked that Dr. Chang could focus radiation treatment just on the tumor. My PAMF care team did a great job. I really appreciate that.”

“Radiotherapy was ideal for Shuping because it is very precise,” explained Dr. Chang. “I could target the tumor accurately and minimize the dose to the healthy tissue surrounding it. Traditional surgery would have been more intrusive, and recovery for this active person more challenging.”

Shorter, More Comfortable Treatment

Radiosurgery patient Dolores Schwarz was treated twice for trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic pain condition that affects the trigeminal nerve, which carries feeling from the face to the brain. Medications provided limited relief from her intense pain. An otherwise spirited woman in her 70s, Dolores was taking four pills a day and still suffering.

“It hurt so much to eat breakfast, I would cry,” Dolores related. “It was like getting random and enduring electrical shocks around my cheek and nose. I couldn’t put cream on my face or stand in front of a fan. Even the shower spray hurt.”

For a year, she explored all of her options and was eventually referred to the Palo Alto Center’s Radiosurgery Department.

“I’d had radiation therapy before for a lumpectomy so knew it wouldn’t hurt. I can get motion sick so I was concerned about how I’d feel when the table rotated during the treatments,” she described. “I wasn’t supposed to move at all for more than an hour. That was hard even though they let me listen to Josh Groban music during the treatment. But I did it because I had made up my mind that I would be cured,” Dolores said.

“It only lasted a few minutes. After it was finished, my husband and I went out for a big steak dinner. I felt good and alive!”

When asked what she would say to someone who was reluctant about radiosurgery, Dolores said, “I’d say ‘Go pronto – go for it.’ It’s not like traditional surgery where you have to recuperate for months. It’s done wonders for me. I’m now pain free and happy as can be,” she said. “I’m 79 and I’m a new lady!”

“This latest radiotherapy system is a real asset to our oncology department and a distinct advantage for our patients needing precise, minimally invasive surgery,” said Dr. Chang.

PAMF is among a minority of outpatient facilities that offer two advanced radiation therapy techniques: three-dimensional conformal radiotherapy (3DCRT) and an extension of this approach known as intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). These methods precisely target the cancer tumor while protecting surrounding tissues and organs. PAMF was the first non-hospital facility in the Bay Area to implement IMRT.

Palo Alto-based Varian Medical Systems, the world’s leading manufacturer of integrated cancer therapy systems, has designated PAMF as one of only two official Varian Learning Centers in the United States, and cancer specialists from all over the world visit the facility to view the technology in action.

See images and videos demonstrating the RapidArc procedure on Varian’s website.

About Varian Medical Systems
Varian Medical Systems Inc., of Palo Alto, California, is the world’s leading manufacturer of medical devices and software for treating cancer and other medical conditions with radiotherapy, radiosurgery and brachytherapy. The company supplies informatics software for managing comprehensive cancer clinics, radiotherapy centers and medical oncology practices.