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West Jefferson Medical Center (1101 Medical Center Blvd., Marrero, 349-1480; www.wjmc.org) recently began using a new CyberKnife Radiosurgery System to treat cancer tumors. Nurse Jennifer Steel, chief community relations officer at the hospital, discusses the new technology.

Q: Exactly what is the CyberKnife Radiosurgery System?

A: CyberKnife is the world's first radiosurgery system to treat both intracranial and extracranial tumors anywhere in the body. West Jefferson Medical Center is initially using CyberKnife for brain and spinal tumors and will treat other cancers later this year. CyberKnife beams a high-powered dose of radiation directly to the site of the tumor without damaging surrounding healthy tissues. It can deliver radiation from over a thousand different angles while the patient simply lies still.

Q: How does it work?

A: CyberKnife uses stereotactic radiosurgery, a combination of robotics and computer-aided technology to deliver a high-powered dose of radiation to the site. Unlike Gamma Knife, it requires no heavy head frames. Brain tumor patients wear a light mesh mask only. In fact, patients receive treatment wearing their clothes. They can even wear their shoes during treatment.

Q: I understand you're the first hospital in Louisiana to have the CyberKnife. Do you expect the technology to draw patients from the state and region?

A: Absolutely. In fact, one of our very first patients lives in Baton Rouge. We are marketing CyberKnife statewide as well.

Q: What allows CyberKnife to treat tumors that are considered inoperable?

A: CyberKnife can reach many tumors that traditional brain surgery cannot. There are many tumors that cannot be surgically removed because the risk to surrounding areas of the brain is too great.

Q: How does it focus in on a tumor to destroy it and not the healthy tissue around it?

A: CyberKnife's robotic arm hones in on the precise site of the tumor and beams a lethal dose of radiation, leaving healthy areas untouched. CyberKnife can access the tumor from over a thousand different angles if it needs to.

Q: Can it be used on any type of cancer tumor?

A: Currently, West Jefferson Medical Center is treating tumors of the brain and spine. Later this year, CyberKnife will be used to treat other cancers located in fixed organs, such as kidneys, pancreas, lung and prostate.

Q: What about recovery?

A: Minimal to no recovery time is needed from a CyberKnife treatment. Since no incisions and no general anesthesia are required ... the risk of complications, and therefore recovery time, is dramatically reduced. Some of the patients we have treated in these first few weeks have finished their treatment and gone about their regular business that same day.

Q: Does a patient generally have to have the treatment more than once?

A: It depends on the patient's condition, but generally treatments are for one-to-five days and last under two hours.

Q: Since there is no incision and no recovery time in the hospital, does it end up costing about the same as traditional tumor treatments? And is it covered by insurance?

A: As an outpatient treatment, CyberKnife is less expensive than surgery, which can require extensive hospital stays. So far, most insurance companies have covered CyberKnife treatments for brain and spine tumors.

Q: Is there anything that would disqualify a person from being treated with CyberKnife?

A: Each patient is thoroughly screened, but typical disqualifying factors include tumor size, location, lymphomas or certain cell types.

Q: What will this new therapy do for the hospital?

A: CyberKnife is the latest addition to West Jefferson Medical Center's Neuroscience Institute. The Institute has the only neuro-oncologist in the region and CyberKnife greatly enhances our ability to treat cancers of the brain and spine.

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