Cancer center uses surgical strikes to attack some malignancies
‘Bloodless surgery’ for tumors available in Waldorf, Charlotte Hall treatment clinics
Radiation treatment for cancerous tumors isn’t new but advancements in the last three decades or so have transformed it into a surgical strike rather than a “carpet bombing.” One Southern Maryland cancer center is leading the charge to bring the latest treatment techniques closer to home.
“We have the two centers and everything is up to date, you get the same treatment here as you would get in the city,” said Dr. Simul Parikh, a radiation therapy specialist with Chesapeake Potomac Regional Cancer Center, which has clinics in Waldorf and Charlotte Hall.
“One of the specialties we do here is what’s called stereotactic radio surgery and stereotactic body radio therapy,” he said. “Essentially, radiation is X-ray treatment of cancer, that’s the simple way to put it. We us fancy X-rays to treat cancer patients.”
The advent of more sophisticated imaging such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized tomography (CT) scanning, along with improvements in radiation beam control, have transformed the use of radiation into a form of “bloodless surgery” for some types of cancer, Parikh said.
“The old techniques, you could say, were very unguided — sort of like carpet bombing,” he said, sitting in his office in Waldorf. “We were able to treat the cancer but the normal body surrounding it took a lot of hits from it. As the [imaging] technology got better — it’s one of the fields of medicine so tied into computers and imaging, CTs and MRIs — as those improved we were able to see what we were treating and able to block out the normal tissues while hitting the target.”
The cancer center has spent the last two years entering what Parikh called “almost the final frontier of what you can do with modern radiation” — stereotactic radio surgery.
“That’s able to do very, very fine beam-lets [of radiation],” he said. “You use many fine beams and they crossfire from many different angles.” The result is concentrating high doses of radiation on a tumor while keeping the surrounding tissue from receiving much at all, he said.
That’s done primarily with the aid of CT scans, though MRIs are also used during the planning stages. A CT scanner is built into the radiation treatment machine to keep tabs of the tumor as treatment is taking place.
The center invested around $800,000 in hardware and software to bring its machines up to date for the more precise capabilities and is steadily building up experience and training to attack a wider number of cancers, Parikh said.
Parikh came to the center six years ago after five years of training and residency experience in treating cancer with radiation at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which operates hospitals all over Pennsylvania and cancer clinics around the world. Since coming to Southern Maryland, he’s headed up the effort to bring in the latest treatment technology.
“We do brain. We do lung,” he said. “We’ve treated a patient with ovarian cancer that had a spot in the pelvis. We’re starting a spine program now, where you have tumors very close to the spinal cord and we’re able to give it a very high dose and protect the spinal cord at the same time.”
“We’re slowly ramping up. It was one [patient] a month [for the new treatments] and we’re now up to about two a month,” he said. “Part of it is [referring doctors] not knowing we have the capability. We try to talk to our referring physicians, but they’re just so use to sending them to Georgetown or sending them to Anne Arundel Hospital Center.”
One recent patient, Eugene Walton of Huntingtown, had a spot on his brain near the optic chiasma, which is where the optic nerves cross. “This area is very sensitive to radiation,” Parikh said. “If we want to treat this area we’re right up against that. If we used old techniques there was no way we could protect that.”
After carefully working up a treatment plan, Walton was given three radiation treatments. Nearly four months later, the spot is gone.
“Two months later we bring him in and its gone,” Parikh said. “He’s asymptomatic. He’s got no problems, no complications. We just wouldn’t have been able to give it the full dose treatment without this technique. We would have been treating everything, and over the course of two weeks. We were able to give the same dose in just two or three days.”
“I’m a very lucky man,” Walton said in a recent telephone interview. “They only diagnosed this last October. I’ve been a very healthy person and have had very few sick days in my life.”
Walton recently had colon cancer removed — “I’m 100 percent clean” — through surgery at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and he’s undergoing chemotherapy for spots on his lungs and liver at Calvert Memorial Hospital in Prince Frederick.
“The specialist at Johns Hopkins recommend the same thing,” Walton said of the treatment he underwent for the brain spot. “So I guess they know what they’re doing.”
“I’m just proud of this center,” Parikh said. “We’re doing pretty cool stuff in a small, mostly rural area.”
Dr. Simul Parikh of the Chesapeake Potomac Regional Cancer Center poses with the radiation treatment machine/CT scanner at the Waldorf clinic.