Radiation therapist Brandi Holland and Dr. Ron Allison, radiation oncologist, speak with cancer patient Arlene Glisson before she undergoes treatment with ECU's new CyberKnife Feb. 11. Photo by Cliff Hollis
(Feb. 17, 2009)
Arlene Glisson is a believer in East Carolina University's newest tool against cancer.
"It's just a blessing," she said. "It gives you hope."
The 71-year-old was talking about the CyberKnife, which began operation this month at the Leo W. Jenkins Cancer Center on the campus of the Brody School of Medicine at ECU. On Feb. 11, she became the first patient to be treated with the device that projects high doses of radiation at tumors with pinpoint accuracy.
Glisson has had two previous radiation regimens for her cervical cancer. One required 21 treatments over five weeks. Another required a hospital stay for radiation implants where she had to lie motionless for three days and take intravenous fluids.
"This is so much better," said Glisson, of Greenville. "No needles, no fluids, it doesn't affect my appetite. This is a heaven-sent machine."
With built-in X-ray imaging and computers that can make minute adjustments to compensate for tumor or patient movement, the CyberKnife can deliver its radiation with minimal damage to surrounding healthy tissue. It also eliminates the need for invasive head or body stabilization frames. ECU's machine has additional upgrades for even greater accuracy and speed.
Glisson lay in a custom-fitted mold for each treatment, which lasted about an hour from the time she walked in the room until she left, with only about 30 minutes of actual radiation treatment. Other radiation therapies can last hours because the beams must be of lower intensity to spare neighboring tissue.
The CyberKnife can treat benign tumors, malignant cancers and other medical conditions anywhere in the body.
"The CyberKnife is critical for several reasons," said Dr. Ron Allison, professor and chair of radiation oncology at the Brody School of Medicine and director of the cancer center. "First, in a rural population many cancer patients are so far from a radiation oncology clinic that they won't get treatment. They can't make the 10-45 visits required due to distance, gas costs and being away from home. For most of these patients, the CyberKnife is able to treat in one to five visits."
The CyberKnife is also an advanced educational tool for physicians, medical students, radiation therapists and others. "This sort of advanced training is critically important to our educational endeavors," Allison said.
The accuracy is also a benefit. "This sort of precision - does everybody need it? No, but it's really great for those who do need it," Allison said.
One measurement of the success of Glisson's treatment, Allison said, would be if she felt less pain from her tumor, indicating the radiation beams did their job. That result is exactly what happened.
"I don't have as much pain as I did have," Glisson said.
ECU expects to perform about 500 treatments each year with the CyberKnife. The total project cost to acquire the CyberKnife and install it, along with renovations to the space it occupies, was $5.2 million.
The technology for the CyberKnife was conceived in 1990 by Dr. John Adler of Stanford University. It features a small linear particle accelerator that generates the radiation beam and a robotic arm that aims and delivers it at any part of the body from any direction.
The CyberKnife system is sold by Accuray, based in Sunnyvale, Calif. ECU's machine is the fourth in North Carolina. The others are in Asheville, Concord and Chapel Hill. About 100 CyberKnifes are in operation in the United States and about 155 worldwide, according to Accuray.