Cancers of the head and neck are curable —if they are caught early enough. The treatment options, though, have traditionally been fearsome ones. For years, surgery involving the physical excision of tumors was the only option. Patients needed time to recover and then reconstructive surgery followed if the procedure left visible deformities.

Radiosurgery

Surgery isn’t an option for certain types of cancer. For tumors deep within the brain, conventional surgery would necessarily require the cutting away of intervening brain tissue, an unviable option. For these tumors, doctors use a technology called radiosurgery. While the term mentions surgery, there is no cutting involved. The treatment method sends targeted radiation into the brain to attack just the lesions or tumors present. This treatment method has been successful and has helped save lives. Nevertheless, it hasn’t been without serious shortcomings.

Conventional radiosurgery technologies aren’t very precise. Considerable radiation leaks into healthy tissue around the treated area. For this reason, radiosurgery only uses low doses of radiation, and as a result, is slow to work. Patients need to come in for dozens of treatments over weeks. Even with the low doses delivered, the imprecision of the treatment means that patients often feel the effects of the radiation. Fatigue, nausea, and pain are common side effects.

Image credits: cancercenter.com

Gamma Knife radiosurgery, another conventional treatment option, is more precise. The precision, though, comes at the cost of patient comfort. Patients must submit to having their heads bolted to a head frame device to receive treatment.

The Cyberknife: the modern alternative

Scientists have worked on developing a more accurate and more versatile method of performing radiosurgery for decades. In 2001, the FDA approved a new device: the CyberKnife. This device uses an extremely accurate robotic arm mounting that is able to deliver precise doses of radiation into a tumor. The Cyberknife employs a robotic arm as a mounting for the radiation device to be able to keep track of patient movement. Patients no longer need to be strapped to a frame to allow the device to irradiate a tumor precisely.

Patient comfort during the procedure isn’t the only benefit

 With Cyberknife robotic radiosurgery, the accuracy achieved is to high sub-millimeter levels. There is little radiation delivered to healthy tissue. For this reason, doctors are able to raise the strength of the radiation delivered. Patients only need to come in four to five times in all. Since healthy tissue isn’t affected, they feel fewer side effects.

Cyberknife robotic radiosurgery is a remarkable development just for the way it improves treatment options for head and neck cancer.

In 2001, the FDA cleared the technology for use in the treatment of cancers of the pancreas, prostate, spine, and other organs. The device has revolutionized the treatment of cancer.

Alicia Madden is a health researcher and consultant. Her articles mainly focus on the latest technological advancements in disease prevention and screening. She enjoys sharing her research on health blogs.

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