IMRT offers patients at JCMC anther option

By Jennifer Lassiter
   Historically, cancer has been treated in three ways: Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Each individual case depends on the type of treatment a doctor decides is pertinent to a particular patient.
   Over the last 100 years, researchers have gained a detailed understanding of tumors and the physics involved with them. Technology has allowed scientists to gain better images, and treat patients accordingly.
   By the late 80's, doctors began to use three dimensional conformal radiation. Allowing them to target cancerous areas as a whole. Since the shapes and depths of the cancer can vary drastically, X-rays limit a beam of radiation to the same strength overall, which could possibly damage healthy body parts surrounding the cancer.
   With an Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) machine, the capabilities have changed. Johnson City Medical Center has the only IMRT machine in the Tri-Cities areas.
   Dr. Kyle Colvett, a radiation therapist, said, " With the IMRT machine we can accomplish the same thing without weeks of testing and re-testing." Dr. Colvett is one of two doctors at JCMC that works with the IMRT machine.
   The process is referred to as an inverse treatment planning, which allows trained doctors , like Dr. Colvett, to program the IMRT to eliminate formulas they know from experience that do not work. The IMRT speeds the planning process up to approximately two to three days. With the IMRT, doctors can shape the density of the beam to conform to the shape of the cancer. Dr. Colvett said, "The idea is, the better we can shape the radiation to the tumor, the higher success rate we'll have."
   Dr. Colvett attended medical school at East Tennessee State University and did his residency training at Harvard. Colvett said, "I fell in love with the people and the area, and my career goals changed."
   There are some disadvantages to the IMRT. It's expensive. It's expensive for patients and the hospital. The machine itself is costly, which rolls over the cost to patients. With only certain patients requiring the use of an IMRT, it is argued there is not enough added benefit to having it.
   To operate the machine, it takes a lot of technical experience, which is hard to find. Even though at the Radiation Oncology Department they are in constant training. It takes years of experience.
   Dr. Colvett said, "The IMRT machine is a first choice for some, but it's not all patients." Meaning that surgery or chemotherapy may be the best option for some patients. Chemothearpy, for example, is for patients with advanced stages of cancer. According to Dr. Colvett, approximately 10 to 20 percent of patients benefit from the IMRT.