The clinic near Bartlett Regional Hospital will treat cancer patients from Juneau and Southeast Alaska, who previously had to travel to Anchorage, Seattle or another large city to get radiation treatment.
Here are five things you should know about treating cancer with radiation and the new clinic:
1. What is radiation therapy?
Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation from X-rays, gamma rays, or protons to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells. According to the National Cancer Institute, about half of all cancer patients receive some type of radiation therapy treatment. It can be the only form of treatment or used with other treatments like chemotherapy and surgery.
Dr. Eugene Huang is medical director of the Southeast Radiation Oncology Center. The clinic uses a machine called a linear accelerator to deliver radiation.
“Basically all the patient has to do is just lie down, and try to hold still, and try to relax – just like getting an X-ray or a CT scan,” Huang says. “And it’s typically delivered in several different beam angles that are custom designed for every single patient in order to maximize our targeting of the tumor and to avoid any excess radiation to the other normal tissue structures.”
2. How does it work?
Tumor cells grow uncontrollably. Radiation kills them by damaging their DNA.
“The cell undergoes what we call a mitotic cell death, which means as it’s trying to divide, go through mitosis, it will figure out that it cannot, because the DNA is damaged and then it will die,” Huang says.
3. Is it safe?
Radiation also kills normal tissue cells. Huang says the team at Southeast Radiation Oncology Center will use the latest software and medical imaging equipment to deliver it as precisely as possible for each patient.
“We know from basically many, many decades of doing radiation and many different ways of delivering radiation that your normal tissues can tolerate a certain amount of radiation, whereas tumor cells are much more sensitive,” he says. “So if you deliver the right amount, you can deliver just enough radiation to kill the tumor cell, but hopefully spare the normal tissue.”
4. Who performs the treatments?
The staff at the center includes Dr. Huang, a radiation oncologist who practiced at the Cleveland Clinic before moving to Juneau. He will work with a medical physicist and dosimetrist to come up with the right dose and treatment plan for each patient. The treatment itself usually lasts about an hour.
“And different patients will have a different amount of treatment,” says Huang. “Sometimes it’s as short as a week or two. Often it’s as long as 8 to 9 weeks. It depends on what kind of cancer, what stage, and a lot of other factors.”
5. Who owns the clinic?
Southeast Radiation Oncology Center is a partnership between two companies: Anchorage Associates of Radiation Medicine and RBS Evolution. Huang says the companies are owned by practicing radiation oncologists.
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