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CyberKnife ushers in robotic revolution in cancer treatment

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Foreshadowed by Dr. McCoy in “StarTrek,” CyberKnife eradictes deadly tumors painlessly -- without incisions, pain, anesthesia, hospital stays, chance of infection or lengthy recovery time. It’s about as simple as a visit to sickbay on the Starship Enterprise.

The revolutionary system, developed by a team on oncologists at Stanford University, is used around the world. CyberKnife is a full-body image-guided stereotactic robotic radiosurgery system that non-invasively destroys tumors without damaging surrounding normal tissue. The cost, which is covered under Medicare and by many insurance companies, is one-third to one-half the cost of traditional surgery in many instances.

“CyberKnife represents the latest generation of radiosurgery, made possible by revolutionary advances in computing power, 3-D imaging and sophisticated robotics,” said Patrick W. Linson, M.D., M.P.H, a Harvard-trained radiation oncologist, and medical director of the CyberKnife of Southern California in Vista.

The $8 million facility, owned and operated by Oncology Therapies of Vista, has treated 700 cancer patients from throughout San Diego County since it opened in fall 2007. It was recently ranked in the top 10 CyberKnife centers in the world and in the top five in the United States, a distinction only achieved by such respected institutions as Georgetown University Medical Center and Harvard’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Radiosurgery -- surgery using precise beams of radiation rather than a surgeon’s knife -- has been used effectively for many years to treat brain tumors. In fact, the physicians of Oncology Therapies of Vista pioneered stereotactic radiosurgery in San Diego County in the 1990s and have treated approximately 4,000 patients. Together, they are responsible for approximately 80 percent of the radiosurgery treatments in the county.

“CyberKnife represents a giant leap in radiosurgery and in the fight against cancer,” said Linson, explaining that CyberKnife is a first line of treatment for many types of tumors, as well as cases that previously could not be treated with radiation, surgery or chemotherapy.

“CyberKnife’s precise delivery system is effective at eradicating tumors throughout the body, including tumors of the lung, prostate, liver, pancreas, kidney, brain, spine and neck,” he said. “Besides offering results equal to or better than other treatments, CyberKnife treatments involve no pain, no incision, no anesthesia, no hospital stay, no chance of infection and no lengthy recovery time.”

CyberKnife uses a linear accelerator mounted on a robotic arm that moves in six directions. During a typical treatment, it delivers 100 to 300 separate beams of precisely targeted radiation from numerous angles. This stereotactic delivery method destroys the tumor, but does not impair surrounding normal tissue. The system has pinpoint accuracy in the sub-millimeter range, which makes it effective for tumors that are surgically inoperable or in difficult locations.

Throughout the treatment, CyberKnife’s precise imaging system tracks and corrects for respiration and other movements of a patient’s body in real time.

The patient’s treatment plan is developed by the CyberKnife team in concert with the patient’s physician, using state-of-the-art CyberKnife software. It enables the team to study multiple imaging modalities (such as MRIs, CT scans and PET scans) together in overlay configurations, resulting in the most accurate analysis of the tumor.

“The course of treatment includes one to five outpatient sessions lasting 30 to 60 minutes,” said Linson. “Since CyberKnife treatments have virtually no side effects, patients often return to their normal activities the same day. For instance, we recently treated a surgeon. He was able to perform surgery on one of his patients just hours after receiving a CyberKnife treatment himself.”

The CyberKnife system, which has been used to treat more than 100,000 patients, was originally developed in the 1980s. There are now 200 CyberKnife centers around the world, including installations at USC Norris Cancer Hospital, Boston Medical Center and Stanford University Medical Center. CyberKnife of Southern California at Vista is respected as one of the leading CyberKnife centers in the United States, and was chosen to be the first center in the world to receive the 800 MU linear accelerator, which provides greater efficiency and shorter treatment times.

“In the history of medical science, there have been small steps and giant leaps,” Linson said. “CyberKnife has to be considered a giant leap. It is the latest, most advanced weapon in the oncologist’s arsenal for the treatment for cancer.”

Related Link: CyberKnife of Southern California at Vista: www.CyberKnifeofSoCal.com

Metz, former president of San Diego Press Club, is a freelance writer and publicist.

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