Together We Can -- Newsletter of the Joan Karnell Cancer Center

Fall 2006

Delivering the Latest Advances in Radiation Therapy
Message From the Administrator
Recent Events
Survivors Day 2006
Honors, Awards & Publications
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Delivering the Latest Advances in Radiation Therapy

New technologies for radiation therapy are providing patients with certain types of cancer significant improvements in treatment options.

More than half of all people diagnosed with cancer use radiation as part of their treatment plan, according to the National Cancer Institute, as high doses of radiation are capable of killing cancer cells.

Gamma Knife® Radiosurgery
At the Joan Karnell Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital, several new methods of delivering radiation therapy provide patients with additional treatment options. Among them, Gamma Knife radiosurgery successfully treats many benign and malignant tumors in the head or skull base.

“Gamma Knife delivers very precise radiation to a specific area of the brain,” says John Glassburn, MD, chief of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Pennsylvania Hospital.“Because it is so precise, the healthy tissue around the lesion is less likely to receive any residual radiation.”

The Penn Gamma Knife Center at Pennsylvania Hospital, directed by John Y.K. Lee, MD, Neurosurgery, offers the most technologically advanced Gamma Knife available. It is a highly advanced machine that delivers 201 beams of radiation to a specific location in the brain or skull. This precise delivery of the radiation helps decrease the risk of exposure or damage to surrounding normal tissue.

Patients generally receive only one Gamma Knife treatment and typically feel little or no discomfort. In fact, most patients go home the same day.

Before the surgery, physicians perform advanced mapping of the lesion using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized tomography (CT) scans and, in some cases, angiograms. Once the specifics of the lesion are determined, the patient undergoes the gamma knife procedure.

“The success of the procedure is dependent upon the type and size of lesion you are treating,” says Dr. Glassburn, “but the risk of damaging healthy tissue is much less with Gamma Knife than it would be in many cases with surgery.”

Patients generally receive only one Gamma Knife treatment and typically feel little or no discomfort. In fact, most patients go home the same day.

“We've seen a high success rate for patients with meningiomas, acoustic neuromas and arteriovenous malformations,” says Dr. Glassburn. The procedure is also being used to treat patients with pituitary adenomas, malignant brain tumors and benign tumors at the base of the skull.

“It may not be for every patient,” says Dr. Glassburn, “but it's an important treatment option. We have one of most vigorous programs in the area and treat a higher volume of patients than most hospitals.”

MammoSite® Radiation Therapy
The Joan Karnell Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital also looks forward to offering the MammoSite® radiation therapy system. Generally used for patients with early and less aggressive breast lesions, MammoSite provides radiation therapy to a localized area of the breast, rather than treating the entire breast.

“The majority of breast cancer reoccurrences occur at the site where the original tumor was removed,” says Dr. Glassburn. “The idea with MammoSite is to reduce the risk to this area.”

The procedure involves inserting a small, soft balloon attached to a thin catheter inside the lumpectomy cavity. A tiny radioactive source in the balloon delivers radiation to the cavity. Generally, the procedure works best in locations not close to the skin in order to prevent any residual radiation damage to healthy tissues.

A typical course of treatment involves radiation delivery to the site twice a day for five days. “A normal course of radiation therapy for these patients would be 6-1/2 weeks,” says Dr. Glassburn. “So, MammoSite can be a much more convenient option for patients. And preliminary data suggests it is as good as standard therapy, if used for selected patients.”

For more information about radiation therapy options at the Joan Karnell Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital, call 800-789-PENN (7366). You can also request an appointment online.


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Need an appointment? Request one online 24 hours/day, 7 days/week or call 800-789-PENN (7366) to speak to a referral counselor.

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