New Cyberknife will benefit patients with hard-to-treat tumors, say UCSF specialists

By Eve Harris on March 25, 2003

Patients with tumors along the spinal cord or in other critical locations can now benefit from state-of-the-art treatment that directs high-dose radiation at the tumor while preserving healthy tissues.

A non invasive procedure, it is the latest development in stereotactic radiosurgery technology and goes by the name CyberKnife. UCSF Medical Center is one of only 12 health care institutions in the country offering this treatment to patients.

With the addition of CyberKnife, UCSF physicians have every weapon in the modern arsenal to fight tumors in hard-to-treat areas, according to William Wara, MD, professor and chair of the UCSF Department of Radiation Oncology.
He said the precision targeting of this device offers a significant improvement for some patients with tumors of the lung, pancreas, head or neck, as well as those with spine and brain tumors, both benign and malignant.

“The goal in treatment is to improve the quality of life for people. Tumors in critical areas have been nearly impossible to effectively treat with conventional radiation therapy without risking significant side effects,” Wara said.  “Treatment methods that bypass a patient’s healthy cells while aggressively targeting the aberrant ones are a wonderful development.”

Stereotactic radiosurgery uses high levels of focused radiation delivered from outside the body to destroy tumors within the body with a small number of treatments.  This treatment technique previously was used mainly for brain tumors.

Using image-guided robotics, CyberKnife is able to accurately target beams of radiation on the tumor.  Its sophisticated software makes it possible to track minute movements of the patient during treatment and to immediately redirect the radiation beams, in real time and with precision. This targeting system allows specialists to aim higher doses at the tumor while preserving healthy tissues, offering patients the same degree of success with fewer side effects and fewer treatments.
Patients also may experience dramatic pain relief after CyberKnife treatment, according to David Larson, MD, PhD, UCSF professor of radiation oncology and director of the UCSF Cyberknife Radiosurgery Program.

“Treatment that might have required as many as 30 sessions with conventional radiation therapy will be reduced to a few sessions of 60 to 90 minutes each,” he said.
Together with UCSF Professor of Neurosurgery Philip Weinstein, MD, and Neurosurgery Assistant Professor Chris Ames, MD, Larson plans to use the new tool initially in patients with tumors on or near the spine.  Such tumors can cause serious problems such as pain or motor and sensory deficits, and treatment with the Cyberknife has been shown to reverse those symptoms rapidly in many cases.

Treatment is particularly useful for preventing symptoms in patients with tumors near the spine who show no symptoms, according to Larson.
CyberKnife was cleared by the FDA in August 2001 to provide radiosurgery for lesions anywhere in the body. 

More than 4,500 patients have been treated to date with this technology worldwide.
UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Children’s Hospital are recognized throughout the world as leaders in health care, known for innovative medicine, advanced technology and compassionate care.

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