Each year, roughly 5 percent of all Americans will be diagnosed with cancer. In a nation of about 280 million people, that translates to 14 million new cancer patients this year alone.
Cancer accounts for 25 percent of all deaths in the United States. There are many types of cancer some are much more deadly than others. Among men, lung, prostate, colorectal, pancreatic and leukemia are the most deadly. Among women, the most fatal are lung, breast, colorectal, ovarian and pancreatic cancers.
The battle against cancer is fought on many fronts. The primary goal, of course, is to prolong life, but today´s cancer battle also is waged to preserve the quality of life for those undergoing treatment. Only a generation ago, cancer treatment often meant surgically removing massive amounts of tissue in hopes of removing the entire cancer. Because of advancements in a number of areas, including radiation oncology, today´s cancer patient is likely to endure a treatment protocol that not only is more effective, but also allows them to maintain a relatively normal lifestyle.
Dr. Paul Monsour, a radiation oncologist at East Jefferson General Hospital, began his career just as the new generation of treatments were being introduced, treatments that attack the cancer while preserving as much tissue as possible. One of these new treatments is Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT), which minimizes side effects and unnecessary tissue damage. It has proved particularly effective in treating cancers in the head, neck, breast and prostate as well as gastrointestinal and gynecological cancers. The treatment allows doctors to target the cancer with radiation from multiple angles, surrounding and isolating the disease. As the name implies, this treatment allows the intensity of the radiation to be modified to fit the needs of each patient, the location of the growth and the type of cancer being treated.
Another breakthrough treatment Dr. Monsour and his colleagues are using is brachytherapy, which represents a significant improvement in the treatment of prostate cancer but also has proved highly effective in the treatment of uterine, cervical, lung, breast, vaginal, esophagus and oral cancers. Brachytherapy is a method of delivering radiation by injecting small pellets or seeds of radiation directly into, or very close to, the tumor. This allows for extremely targeted treatment and, unlike the massive surgeries of yesteryear, it can be effectively performed on an outpatient basis, usually with very low rates of complications and few side effects.
The next generation of treatment is Image Guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT), which allows a physician to view the tumor during treatment. Like IMRT, this allows doctors to attack the tumor from multiple angles and with varied or tailored doses. Currently, IGRT is available at only a couple of local hospitals, but it should be widely available within the next few years.
With the addition of IGRT near the end of this year, Monsour is confident the advancements will provide those diagnosed with cancer the widest array of effective and patient-friendly treatment options available in the region. A traditional breast cancer therapy previously took six to seven weeks and might have involved the removal of all or most of a breast; today´s treatment can be completed in five days and the breast preserved.
Monsour points out, however, that the new therapies are only as good as the people and systems using them and stresses the importance of early detection of cancers and interdepartmental cooperation within a healthcare institution. ¨It is not uncommon for us to maintain a relationship with our patients that lasts several years,¨ he says. ¨Helping them survive cancer while maintaining their sense of dignity and quality of life has proved to be the most rewarding part of our work.¨