Software keeps cancer center on the cutting edge

Olympic Medical Center continues to strive for the best in cancer treatment and care. With the addition of new technology, patients of the Thomas Family Cancer Center at Olympic Medical Center can look forward to quicker and more precise radiology treatment.

The center has upgraded its radiology software, which aids radiation oncologists as they plan out a patient's treatment through model-based segmentation. The software cost $30,000, with the funding coming from the Olympic Medical Center Foundation. The foundation raised the money during its 2007 Harvest of Hope Winemakers' Gala.

Following a consultation with the patient and a computed axial tomography (CAT) scan, which creates a three-dimensional picture of a patient's body, radiologists and dosimetrists plan a patient's individualized radiology treatment, deciding what areas need to be receive radiation, what areas need to be avoided and how much radiation should be administered.

According to radiation oncologist Dr. Heath Foxlee, creating a three-dimensional map of a patient's anatomy is laborious and time consuming because no two bodies - including the internal organs - are the same. Everything needs to be contoured to reflect even the slightest changes and differences.

"Anything that helps us define anatomy better and more readily just helps the whole basis of our planning," Foxlee said.

Before the software upgrade, OMC dosimetrists such as Kendal Wake had to create pictures of patients' treatment areas by taking individual CAT scan slices and defining each individual section of the anatomy. The upgrade provides Wake with predefined 3-D organ structures. For example, take the brain. Rather than go slice by slice mapping out the organ, Wake clicks the predefined template onto the patient's image and the template automatically adapts in shape to fit the patient's organ. The new process takes a 12th of the time it used to.

"Today we had a case where a patient needed to be treated right away, so to be able to do this in such an efficient manner is a big deal," Wake said.

The software also allows radiologists to avoid organs. For example, if a patient had a tumor on the brain, a consequence of receiving radiation was that the salivary glands would receive radiation in addition to the targeted area. Salivary glands can only take so much radiation before they're destroyed and the patient loses the ability to salivate. With the new software, though, the glands can be avoided, with radiation hitting around the glands not through them.

OMC is one of only a handful of hospitals in the state with this software.

"It's a new level of being able to see what we need to do," Foxlee said, adding that the software brings an unprecedented level of sophistication to radiology planning, and in the end, gives the patient better and more accurate treatment.
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