A pitch for radiation therapy
January 8, 2011
Dr. Devin Schellenberg talks about his role as a radiation oncologist.
So what do I do when I’m not a Clinical Trials Director and not writing blogs?
In my role as a radiation oncologist (see previous post), I also get to perform research into radiation therapy. Again, we are always trying to improve upon existing treatments for our patients.
My research interests revolve around more focused radiation treatment planning. This is an evolving field, and the term for this is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT). There are also those who refer to SBRT as Stereotactic Ablative Radiotherapy (SABR), which has a cooler “Sabre” abbreviation and more adequately describes the aim of the higher radiation dose that is to increase the percentage of tumour cells killed by delivering a dose that ablates all the cancerous tissue.
This higher dose radiation can only be delivered by immobilizing the patient more effectively, using newer radiation beam technology and accounting for tumour motion during treatment (for example, monitoring lung tumours during the breathing cycle).
Currently the BC Cancer Agency uses SBRT for the treatment of small lung tumours, liver metastases and spinal tumours, but the treatment is used only in very specific situations and selected patients.
Outside of B.C., however, there are clinical trials examining whether surgery or SBRT is the most effective way to treat small lung tumours. Those that have been reading previous entries will remember that not all clinical trials are positive and that radiation might be found to be less effective than surgery, but it may not — and I find that possibility fascinating.
I’m a sucker for new cancer treatments (which likely explains how I landed in Clinical Trials – see previous blog postings) and I can’t wait until we have the results of trials to prove the benefit of SBRT.
I like my job treating cancer patients in both radiation oncology and clinical trials. I find it extremely emotional, at times stressful, frustrating and incredibly sad, but also uplifting. Most of all, I feel that I do valuable and rewarding work.
I also think the field of cancer is incredibly interesting yet vastly unknown. I love that it is always evolving and that there are a bunch of labs that are all trying out different ways to mess up a cancer cell’s growth without influencing normal cell growth and development. I’m fascinated by the way we can design an antibody to target a specific molecule on the surface of a cell. Sure, it would be much cooler to me if that targeting antibody had some radiation attached to it, but I guess you have to walk before you can run.