Finally, Filipinos do not have to go to Hong Kong or Singapore for better cancer detection and cure. The Philippines now offers the latest technology for such as one of the country's top hospitals, Makati Medical Center (MMC), recently marked the first anniversary of one of its centers of excellence, Cancer Center, by being the first in the country to introduce the cutting-edge radiation treatment TomoTherapy.
Chemotherapy may be top of mind among most Filipinos when it comes to cancer treatment, but with TomoTherapy, patients will finally learn to appreciate the importance and efficacy of radiation, which Dr. Kathleen Baldivia, MMC Radiation Oncology section head, defines as "the use of X-ray beams to kill cancer cells by damaging the cancer cells' DNA so these cells will not regenerate or grow."
"Medicine is now producing better gadgets," declares Dr. Ramon Ocampo, MMC Radiology chair. "Radiology is one medical field you have to invest good equipment on. We must be precise in targeting treatment to lessen complications."
Resembling a CT scan machine, the four-million-dollar TomoTherapy machine is said to be the only one of its kind that boasts of a three-dimensional image-guided capability or a 360-degree integrated computed tomography (CT) system combined with advanced software to correctly identify and locate the tumor's site and size before each radiation treatment.
For the longest time, hand-cut blocks have been used to shield normal body parts from the wide radiation beams typical of conventional radiation treatments. Arm Radiology, one of the latest of its kind before TomoTherapy, shows only limited angles, which results in doctors giving the same doses for all tumors.
With the advent of TomoTherapy, however, the delivery of a radiation field adapts closely to the shape and size of a tumor, enabling doctors to better visualize tumors, customize treatment for individual tumors, and know where the cancer is going, explains Baldivia.
"It gives doctors more confidence in tracking down targets. We can see the body 360 degrees so we can be more precise to treat multiple tumors in one go while sparing healthy, normal tissues from radiation," she clarifies. "It enables doctors to deliver a better service so there is also a higher chance of survival."
First introduced for clinical use at the University of Wisconsin, USA, in 2003, TomoTherapy is fully computerized and runs with a built-in software and hardware program called Tomo Direct, which gives the option of limiting radiation to fixed angles around the patient and further protects them from unnecessary radiation exposure via a customized treatment plan designed by their doctors.
Because of its accuracy, TomoTherapy addresses almost all types of cancers, from irregularly-shaped tumors, to long treatment fields like multiple tumors along the spine, or multiple tumors in the brain. Painless and non-invasive, TomoTherapy sessions take seven to 15 minutes, much like the duration of most conventional radiation treatments.
As tumors shrink with time and treatments are adjusted on a daily basis, the likelihood of fewer TomoTherapy sessions is possible. "And that's great because patients who live far or are too weak don't have to come in to get treatment as often," says Baldivia.
The treatment is also less expensive in MMC than going abroad, she assures. An entire session of 10 days to seven weeks, for example, costs P500,000 abroad but only P100,000 to P120,000 in MMC, she says. Patients also save on hotel and hospital room bills as the treatment is an out-patient service.
TomoTherapy's biggest advantage, she says, is reduced radiation exposure, resulting in less exposure to toxins. Because it has less side effects, patients can return to doing their normal home and work chores right after the treatment.
"It's a big part of most cancer treatments; in fact, for some cancers, it's the main treatment-not surgery, nor chemotherapy, which is given in many advanced cases," expounds Baldivia. "Radiation is also used to relieve symptoms, thus improving a patient's quality of life. I think radiation is here to stay for the majority of our cancer patients."
As experts continue their quest to find a cure for cancer, efforts to provide patients with more precise and efficient forms of treatment have yielded some of the most impressive inventions in healthcare to date. But, of course, as Baldivia says, nothing beats lifestyle modification, low cholesterol intake, cutting back on salt, and regular exercise, or in short, prevention, in curing the notorious Big C.