At the Champalimaud Foundation in Lisbon, Portugal, doctors are using the latest technologies in radiosurgery to treat cancers. It involves using a beam of photons as a virtual scalpel to remove cancer cells without damaging healthy ones.
What has been improved in these new machines is the accuracy: the beam hits the tumour with a precision of just a millimetre. This non-invasive technique speeds up treatment meaning some tumours can be treated in just a few sessions.
The Champalimaud Foundation in Lisbon is a non-profit organisation, focusing on the research and treatment of cancer. This year they expect to treat around 15,000 patients.Across the 28 countries of the EU, 400,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year, with a mortality rate of 20 percent.
Professor Carlo Greco is a radiation oncologist who has worked in Italy and the US. He explained how radiosurgery works: “It uses a tracking device, much like GPS, which tells us what is currently happening, as the treatment is being delivered and it will allow us to track motion and correct it, so that the deposition (of the treatment beam) is with a high degree of accuracy.
“Through the prostate there is a structure, which is the urethra, through which the urine passes. With our technique and with the tracking we perform during the treatment, we can selectively spare this structure so that the side effects of the treatment are truly minimal.”
There are around 400,000 new cases a year in the EU, but the mortality rate is approaching 85 percent.
Professor Greco explained the technologies used for different tumours are based on the same principles: “Before we do the treatment, we do a CT scan of the patient in the treatment position. We can actually see the volume, the anatomy of the target.”
He also revealed that the treatment is not expensive: “It is more cost-effective, because we can reduce the number of sessions significantly. Typically we treat prostate cancer in five single sessions. In some cases we treat primary diseases in one session only, meaning that the treatment is delivered in one single exposure of radiation, of high-dose radiation with huge advantages in term of convenience and comfort for the patient.”
Patients who have undergone the treatment say that they experienced no pain or discomfort, and the experience was like having an X-ray or a scan.
Unfortunately the treatments cannot be used against all cancers, and there is still a lot of research to be done into cancer treatments. But precision radiosurgery is a big step in the right direction.