Cancer Center at the tip of the technology spear in treatment

By Allison Marlow
Posted 2/28/18

Dr. William C. Hixson sounds like he is reading from a science fiction movie script.

He describes precise surgery that can zap cancer cells in the brain and send patients home the same afternoon. …

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Cancer Center at the tip of the technology spear in treatment

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Dr. William C. Hixson sounds like he is reading from a science fiction movie script.

He describes precise surgery that can zap cancer cells in the brain and send patients home the same afternoon. No cuts, no wounds, no overnight hospital stays.

But that future is now.

At Gulf Coast Cancer Centers Hixson and Dr. Adam Huddleston are able to offer many patients a means to not just treat cancer, but eradicate it, sometimes in just a few afternoons.

“Technology has allowed us to give the same radiation in different ways and make it more effective and a much more convenient treatment with the same or less side effects,” Hixson said. “That’s been really exciting.”

One example is Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS) a precise, noninvasive treatment that can focus radiation on a tumor in the brain without harming nearby cells. Often the process is used to aggressively treat recurring cancers.

Hixson said for example if a patient had melanoma 20 years ago and it unfortunately returns to a spot on the brain they may have the option to surgically remove that area or undergo SRS.

Those who choose an SBRT would wear an exact fitting mask to hold their head in place. His staff would fuse CT scans and MRI images to find the cancer’s exact location. The staff can steer the beam of radiation to focus on that spot, even if it is as small as a pea.

The machine moves around the patient, emitting the beam, never touching the body.

The procedure is especially helpful for people who don’t want to have the operation or who medically can’t tolerate an operation.

Hixson said side effects may be less with the treatment and since the radiation is spread out, there is often less hair loss.

“It’s always nice to be able to offer patients that option to avoid the surgery and have something done in a non-invasive way and in their own community,” Hixson said.

Hixson’s staff is also able to offer the newest standard of care for patients with early-stage lung cancer: stereotactic body radiation therapy.

“What we’ve seen over the last 20 years is that as computers have advanced so has our radiation technology and radiation delivery,” Hixson said.

The technology allows doctors to use high doses of radiation on a broad range of tumors. The procedure is so effective at reducing tumor side that even tumors once considered inoperable are often able to be reduced.

“In the past we’ve been limited by how much radiation therapy we can give per year,” Hixson said. Doctors have had to weigh the benefits of radiation against the damage being done to normal tissue around the tumor. Now, this precise procedure can spare healthy cells.

“In the past you would have gotten seven weeks of radiation with a 50/50 chance that we eliminate the cancer,” Hixson said. “Now, instead of seven weeks, we can give three very large treatments to just the tumor with a 90 percent chance of curing it.”

The treatment is especially helpful for cancers that have metastasized to the bone.

“What we’re learning about cancer in some patients who have metastasized cancer, usually they think it’s over. Cancer is going to get them. But there are certain situations where patients can have limited metastasize and with aggressive treatment we might be able to cure someone who in the past was untreatable.

“It’s very gratifying to see technology benefit patients and allow us to do a better job and have more options for patients,” Hixson said.

Most importantly, he added, patients can be treated near their homes.

“These technologies are accessible in a community setting. It’s one thing to have technology but if it is only in California or only in New York it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “It’s amazing that the technology has come in such a way that it is accessible to everyone.”