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New cancer procedure targets only affected site
About a year ago, Jo Bash was diagnosed with skin cancer. The small tumor was on her nose, which made her concerned about how medical treatments would affect her appearance.
“It really scares you, especially where it was at,” she said, adding her first thought was, “Oh gosh, I am going to lose my eye.”
One method to treat skin cancer is to surgically remove the tumor and an area up to half an inch around it, explained Dr. Gordon L. Grado of Yuma Oncology Center. Grado is also the founder and medical director of the Southwest Oncology Centers in the Phoenix area and teaches medical students in Minnesota throughout the year.
“She is very particular about her appearance, as many women are,” Grado said about Bash. “If she had surgery, she would have had either a big defect there or a depression. She may have had to have a skin graft.”
Radiation treatment was another option, but Bash was worried the healthy skin around her tumor would be damaged. “What I know about radiation — it burns you,” she said.
Despite Bash's reservations, her physician encouraged her to undergo a course of radiation treatments and referred her to Yuma Oncology Center. After an evaluation, her attending oncologist decided to treat her with the Axxent® eBx System, a state-of-the-art machine manufactured by the Xoft company.
The Axxent was designed to perform brachytherapy. A therapeutic dose of isotope-free X-ray radiation is placed directly into the tumor, or close to it, under the supervision of a radiation oncologist.
“What happens is you are putting the radiation exactly where you want it,” Grado said. “The energy of the X-ray is around 50- to 80-kilovolts of energy. It is very low and doesn't penetrate very far, so you don't get a lot of collateral damage. If it is in a sensitive area where you don't want to have a lot of disfiguring surgery, this system can be great.”
In cooperation with the dermatologist, a radiation oncologist determines the amount of radiation needed and an attending medical physicist ensures the radiation is delivered as prescribed.
In addition to being simple to use, the Axxent is about 100 times smaller than similar radiation machines from as recently as five years ago, said Carlos Caballero, a medical physicist at Yuma Oncology Center.
“This is a really advanced, state-of-the-art, miniaturized X-ray tube. The whole thing is about 3 millimeters by 3 millimeters. It is amazing.”
And the radiation emitted into the surrounding environment by the Axxent “is actually three times less than a conventional CT scanner, and thousands of times less than a linear accelerator,” Caballero added.
“The nice thing is, when the patient is getting the treatment, the therapist can be in the room with the patient so they are not isolated. They are not locked up, the door slammed shut, and all by themselves.”
The precision of the instrument, and the lower amount of radiation exposure, was comforting news for Bash. “They don't have to put you into some enclosed thing if you have claustrophobia, and this just pinpoints (the radiation) right at the cancer.”
During her course of treatments, Bash was fitted with a special netted mask and placed on a table in an open room. The mask kept her face immobilized so the radiation would be concentrated on the tumor and not the surrounding tissues.
The miniaturized X-ray applicator delivered radiation for a few minutes during each round of Bash's treatment, which she said was painless. “The only way I knew it was working was because the machine beeped.”
The treatments, generally eight altogether for each patient, are stretched out over four months, Grado said.
“The negative of (the Axxent ) is it can't be done in one treatment. It needs to be done over a period of time. The radiation isn't there, but the effects of the radiation last maybe about six months. But the beauty is the cosmesis (preservation) is remarkable.”
Bash is a prime example of that, he noted. Her cancer is now in remission, and observers are hard pressed to identify the spot on her nose where the tumor used to be.
“It was a big relief,” she said about completing the treatments successfully. “That is an amazing machine. It really is. Why anybody would want to even go out of town when they have this here is beyond me.”
Grado agreed. He believes physicians and oncologists in the Yuma area are well equipped to treat many forms of cancer.
“To complement all the other doctors in Yuma, we are bringing quality here and quality programs for the patients. It is really exciting. There is nothing to be embarrassed about cancer treatments in Yuma.”
Yuma Oncology Center is at 1951 W. 25th St., Suite F. For more information about its use of the Axxent, call 317-9200.
Chris McDaniel can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6849.