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Rare radiation therapy available at Nashville hospital

Posted on: 06/02/2003

Story last updated at 12:53 p.m. on Monday, June 2, 2003

Rare radiation therapy available at Nashville hospital

The Associated Press

NASHVILLE : A new form of radiation therapy now in service at Saint Thomas Hospital's $4 million brain tumor center could potentially benefit thousands of people who can't tolerate traditional surgery, doctors believe.

The Novalis Shaped Beam Surgery can shape its radiation beam to mirror the dimensions of the site to be treated, said Dr. Steven Abram, director of the center. In the brain, it is particularly important not to apply radiation to surrounding tissue, he said.

"There are quite a few people that (traditional) surgery is not appropriate for that we've not had anything to offer for," Abram said. "There is quite a long list of potential candidates for this treatment."

A 16-year-old girl with an impending brain hemorrhage had her problem dissolved recently by radiation at the University of California-Los Angeles, something that couldn't have been accomplished safely without the multimillion-dollar technology.

Nationally, hundreds of thousands of people with brain abnormalities, liver cancer, prostate cancer and other hard-to-treat illnesses could potentially benefit from Novalis surgery, said Dr. Tim Solberg of Jonsson Cancer Center at UCLA.

Solberg estimated the equipment at Saint Thomas will cost nearly $2.5 million. Saint Thomas will have exclusive rights to the Novalis system within a 300-mile radius, Abram said.

The next-closest Novalis site to Nashville is Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C., according to BrainLab, developer of the treatment system. Others include M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Orlando, Fla., and Baylor Richardson Medical Center in Richardson, Texas.

Abram emphasized that Novalis does not replace traditional brain surgery. Instead, he said, it is for people who for a variety of reasons "have had surgery and have had recurrences and are not amenable to another operation."

An example is the 16-year-old girl treated at UCLA. Solberg said she had been diagnosed with a tangle of veins and arteries that sometimes develops in the brain and usually leads to a hemorrhage.

With the Novalis beam-shaping capability, he said, UCLA physicians were able to outline the tangled "clump" and apply radiation only to it. The residue was gradually flushed away by the bloodstream.

Noninvasive radiation has been around for years, Abram said, and is already offered by other Tennessee hospitals. The BrainLab system, however, offers the "most advanced, the most accurate and the latest technology."

He said treatment could be administered in one high-dose sitting lasting less than an hour or in five to 10 small-dose sittings, also less than an hour each.

Solberg estimated that UCLA, the first facility to adopt the Novalis system, had treated more than 1,800 people since 1998.

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