October 1999
Revolutionary Cancer Treatment

Tragically 50 percent of women who have breast cancer will also suffer metastatic cancer that has spread to other areas, such as the liver, lungs, bones and brain. Fortunately, a treatment called body radiosurgery can provide an alternative to the limitations of chemotherapy.

Body radiosurgery utilizes multiple, finely contoured beams of radiation from many different angles to attack the cancer. This outpatient procedure is virtually painless and allows patients to return to normal activities quickly and with minimal side effects. Results have been encouraging. More than 85 percent of patients experienced positive control rates in which the cancer disappeared completely or the tumor stopped growing or shrank. The technique was pioneered in the early 1990s at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and has been used in more than 1,000 treatments worldwide.

Typically it requires only three to five 45-minute treatment sessions, as opposed to potentially years of chemotherapy, said Robert A. Behar, medical director at the Spring Branch Radiation Oncology Center in Houston, a freestanding facility on the campus of Spring Branch Medical Center.

"Body radiosurgery is a tremendous development for women who have exhausted chemotherapy and may be facing terminal conditions," said Dr. Behar, one of four physicians in the United States to have obtained special training at Karolinska.

Dr. Behar and his medical team use state-of-the-art computers and technology to create their body radiosurgery treatment plans. After an initial consultation, the patient visits the Spring Branch Radiation Oncology Center and is situated in an immobilizing body frame linked to a modern three-dimensional treatment planning computer. Then, the patient and frame are positioned in a computerized tomography scanner where the exact size and location of the tumor are assessed. To verify the plan, a second visit and simulation are conducted, after which actual treatment is scheduled.

"Because the procedure in noninvasive," said Dr. Behar, "the patients needs little preparation and can eat prior to treatment. No blood is drawn, and the patient is not radioactive." He added that even patients who have been told there is no further treatment available may be candidates for body radiosurgery. More than thirty percent of our body radiosurgery patients fit this category and have successfully completed this treatment program."