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August 27, 2008 > Leading-Edge Cancer Treatments: What You Need to Know

Leading-Edge Cancer Treatments: What You Need to Know

Learn About Radiation Therapy and Chemotherapy at Upcoming Seminar

The technology for treating cancer has improved dramatically over the past couple of decades. This is great news for the 1.4 million people that the American Cancer Society estimates are newly diagnosed with cancer each year. Understanding the various cancer treatments available today can be a daunting task, however.

"Different types of cancer respond to different treatments," says Dr. Vandana Sharma, a medical oncologist at Washington Hospital. "In some cases, surgery may be the main treatment for the cancer if it appears that all of the tumor can be removed. In other cases, radiation may be more effective. In still others, chemotherapy may be the only treatment needed. Quite often, though, physicians will recommend a treatment plan that combines therapies."

With cancer, certain cells in the body begin to multiply quickly, growing out of control. "The goal of both radiation therapy and chemotherapy is to kill those cancerous cells, but they do it in very different ways," says Dr. Michael Bastasch, a radiation oncologist at the Washington Radiation Oncology Center.

"Radiation therapy targets only cells in the tumor and the immediate surrounding area, so it is used to control cancer at the primary site," he explains. "Chemotherapy, on the other hand, is not curative alone for solid tumors, but it can affect cells throughout the body to control cancer that may have spread to other sites - even if the spread of cancer is microscopic and not visible. That's why the two therapies are often used together."

To help people learn more about the latest advances in radiation therapy and chemotherapy - as well as how to prevent cancer in the first place - Dr. Sharma and Dr. Bastasch will present special Health & Wellness seminar on these topics on Monday, September 8 from 1 to 3 p.m. The seminar will be held in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont. . For more information about the seminar, or to register to attend, please call (800) 963-7070.

"If the treatment plan calls for using radiation, the first step is to get accurate images to define the shape and size of the tumor with tools such as X-rays, CT scans, MRI and PET scans," Dr. Bastasch notes. "In addition to knowing the size and shape of the tumor, we also need to know where the tumor is during treatment. The organs in the torso move around in the body when the patient breathes or because of muscle movement in the digestive tract.

Leading Edge Treatment Close to Home
The Washington Radiation Oncology Center is proud to offer local patients access to the latest innovations in radiation therapy. The Center's new Image Guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT) treatment system takes real-time digital images that can pinpoint tumors and target the radiation more accurately.

"Image Guided Radiation Therapy allows us to locate the tumor precisely before each dose of radiation is delivered, minimizing the amount of healthy tissue exposed to radiation," adds Dr. Bastasch.

While the primary use of chemotherapy is to treat cancers that have spread - or metastasized - to other parts of the body, it also can be used to reduce the size of a tumor before surgery or radiation therapy. Chemotherapy even can be used in low doses to make radiation therapy more effective.

"Certain cancers respond better to the combination of radiation and low-dose chemotherapy," says Dr. Sharma. "The chemotherapy essentially concentrates the effects of the radiation. It's somewhat similar to the way people used to apply baby oil before sunbathing to concentrate the power of the sun's radiation."

Dr. Sharma also notes that recent advances in chemotherapy have reduced the severity of various side effects.

"Traditional chemotherapy involved a non-specific, broad-based approach that also attacked healthy rapidly dividing cells such as the hair, skin, gastrointestinal tract and blood," she explains. "The newer chemotherapy agents such as Herceptin are more like 'smart bombs' that attack unique cell proteins found in various cancer cells. These targeted drugs currently are available only for certain types of cancer, but more and more drugs are being discovered all the time. We also have better drugs to help manage side effects such as nausea.

"People are naturally frightened when they are diagnosed with cancer, but they need to know it's not an automatic death sentence," Dr. Sharma adds. "Our cancer treatments today are vastly more effective and much less toxic than in the past. Of course, it's still important for people to take preventive measures to control their risk factors for cancer whenever possible and to get regular screenings to catch cancers in the early states when treatment can be most effective."

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