Healthwatch 16: TrueBeam Cancer Treatment

PLAINS TOWNSHIP, Pa. -- Radiation has long been used to treat different types of cancer, but doctors say the trouble with it is that good tissue is damaged right alongside the bad.

Dr. Anand Mahadevan was excited to show us a new piece of equipment available at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center. He's the chairman of the department of radiation oncology for the Geisinger Health System.

The equipment is something called TrueBeam, what Dr. Mahadevan says is a better way to treat cancer using radiation.

"What this machine does is, when we're treating cancer, it prevents damage to normal tissue. We're now able to look at normal tissue and make sure we're targeting and protecting it while we're treating cancer," Dr. Mahadevan said.

There's a CAT scan built into the system. A patient first gets a scan to determine exactly what cancerous tissue needs to be treated. Doctors can then tell the computer which of the various sizes and shapes of radiation beams to use, and from which direction.

It's different from just a few years ago when Dr. Mahadevan says they had little control where the radiation was going.

"We identify where the target is, and we identify what the target we don't want to treat is. We tell the computer to confirm that target and avoid the normal tissue."

That means fewer side effects less skin irritation and burning, and less hair loss, which doctors know is an important part of treating patients for cancer.

"We want them to look good and have a good quality of life after this, once they put their cancer behind them."

There is one TrueBeam machine in the Wyoming Valley facility and another at Geisinger Danville.

Officials say in the Wyoming Valley, the machine has already been used hundreds of times since April.