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Celebrating the Achievements of Vancouver Island Medical Physicists

December 23, 2014

All good things must come to an end and so it has for my short month as the BC Cancer Foundation’s guest blogger! I have enjoyed telling you about where I come from and what I do at the BC Cancer Agency.

I thought for this final post I would let you know of some of the medical practice changes that have been implemented because of our research work in Victoria – I am very proud of our achievements.

We were the first centre in British Columbia to use intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). With IMRT we are able to precisely “paint” the radiation dose to treat just the patient’s cancer and spare much more of the unaffected area. We first used IMRT with head and neck cancers and immediately saw a major reduction in treatment side effects such as dry mouth, sore throat and difficulty swallowing. This treatment is now common practice in all Agency centres.

Vancouver Island patients were the first in Canada to benefit from the use of IMRT for left-sided breast cancer. Sometimes the heart is very close to the breast needing treatment – IMRT enables us to “sculpt” the radiation dose around the heart, reducing the chance that patients will have heart complications later in life.

Another way we revolutionized left-sided breast cancer treatment was by being the first centre in Canada to use a deep breath hold technique which helps move the heart away from the treated breast. The key to this technique is special equipment that ensures patients hold their breath in exactly the same way each time they are treated. Further research allowed us to identify which left-sided breast cancer patients would benefit most from normal treatments, IMRT treatments or breath hold treatments.

We were also the first in the world to use a group of computers all working together to calculate radiation dose from a complicated radiotherapy treatment technique called Volumetric Modulated Arc Therapy (VMAT). VMAT treatments involve the movement many parts of the treatment machine during the radiation treatment – a very tricky problem! The initial set of computers we used for this research was purchased in part with funding provided by the BC Cancer Foundation; and the calculation system we created has been used in partnership with one of the world’s largest radiation equipment manufacturers, to determine the accuracy of their radiation dose calculation computer programs.

My team and I look forward to continuing to advance the field of radiation oncology in the future. Our next project will involve using new equipment to enable very accurate robotically-controlled brain cancer treatments. The equipment we will be using is unique in Canada and only available in a few centres around the world. We will have plenty to keep us busy!

Well folks, Seasons Greetings to you all!

Thanks very much for reading my posts!