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Radiation Oncology Blog

A Blog for Radiation Oncology
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Radiation therapy for left-sided breast cancers confers a measurable dose of radiation to the heart, which is located on the left side of the chest. When radiation therapy comes in contact with the heart, coronary artery disease becomes a long-term risk for patients. Many patients with early stage breast cancer will be long-term survivors, for these patients it is especially important to lower morbidity associated with late treatment.

Deep Inspiration Breath Hold is a new technique of radiation delivery that has shown to decrease the dose of radiation therapy to heart. In this technique, the patient takes in a deep breath of air and holds their breath for 15 to 22 seconds. As the lungs expand with air, the heart is naturally pushed down and away from the chest wall, and subsequently, the left breast. The physical displacement of the heart from the treatment area results in lower heart doses during the course of radiation therapy, specifically left-sided breast cancers. The degree to which the heart is displaced from the chest wall is defined at the time of consultation and varies based on an individual’s anatomy and lung capacity. During the administration of radiation therapy, a patient’s treatment position and breathing are monitored in real time to ensure accuracy of treatment delivery.

MUSC Radiation Oncology now offers this technique to all appropriate patients with left-sided breast cancers as a means of lowering long-term treatment related cardiac morbidity. The physician will determine if an individual patient is a candidate for the Deep Inspiration Breath Hold technique during treatment planning.

April is National Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month and according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology (Head and Neck Surgery), each year, more than 55,000 Americans will develop cancer of the head and neck (most of which is preventable) and nearly 13,000 of them will die from it.

Head and neck cancer is a term used to describe a number of different cancerous tumors that develop in or around the throat, larynx, nose, sinuses, and mouth.  These cancers typically begin in the squamous cells that line the moist surfaces inside the mouth, nose and throat.

Tobacco use is the most preventable cause of head and neck cancer.  In the U.S., up to 200,000 people die each year from smoking-related illnesses.  The good news is that this figure has decreased due to the increasing number of Americans who have quit smoking.  The bad news is that some of these smokers switched to smokeless or spit tobacco, assuming it is a safe alternative.  By doing so, they are only changing the site of the cancer risk from their lungs to their mouths.  While lung cancer cases are decreasing, cancers in the head and neck appear to be increasing.  

Fortunately, most head and neck cancers produce early symptoms.  Below are some potential warning signs of head and neck cancer.  If you experience any of these symptoms, you should alert your doctor as soon as possible. 

There are several head and neck cancer symptoms, including:

- Lump, bump, or mass in the head or neck area, with or without pain

- Persistent sore throat

- Hoarseness or change in voice

- Nasal obstruction or persistent nasal congestion

- Frequent nose bleeds and/or unusual nasal discharge

- Blood in the saliva or phlegm

- Ear and/or jaw pain

Many cancers of the head and neck can be cured, especially if they are found early.  Although eliminating the cancer is the primary goal of treatment, preserving the function of the nearby nerves, organs, and tissues is also very important.  When planning treatment, doctors consider how treatment might affect a person’s quality of life, such as how a person feels, looks, talks, eats, and breathes.  Treatment options and recommendations depend on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer, possible side effects, and the patient’s preferences and overall health.

At MUSC Hollings Cancer Center, the mission of the MUSC Head and Neck Tumor Center is to provide the most comprehensive, advanced, and compassionate care to each patient, while pursuing future goals of the control of head and neck cancer through research.  The Head and Neck Tumor Program prides itself on innovative care for each patient and family member.  With a team of more than 30 specialists prepared to provide input into every aspect of the needs of head and neck tumor patients, the program offers the most up-to-date treatment and rehabilitative options.  High quality care is enhanced by constant interaction between Head and Neck Tumor Center physicians and researchers.  This collaboration benefits all patients, including those with difficult cases.

For more information about head and neck cancer, or any of the conditions treated at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center, please click here

If your New Year’s resolution to get fit and healthy is already losing steam, February, which is National Cancer Prevention Month, is a great time to give yourself a second chance.  Renew your efforts to make healthier choices by learning what you can do to help reduce your cancer risk.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the leading national public health institute of the United States, reports that cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, exceeded only by heart disease.  Every year, cancer claims the lives of more than half a million Americans and one of every four deaths in the United States is due to cancer. 

According to the American Cancer Society, the nationwide health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem, to help reduce your cancer risk, you should do the following things:

- Stay away from all forms of tobacco.

- Get to and stay at a healthy weight.

- Get moving with regular physical activity.

- Eat healthy with plenty of fruits and vegetables.

- Limit how much alcohol you drink (if you drink at all).

- Protect your skin.

- Know yourself, your family history, and your risks.

- Get regular check-ups and cancer screening tests.

While the recommended tips above will all help you take control of your health, the American Cancer Society says much of the suffering and death from cancer could be prevented by more systematic efforts to reduce tobacco use, improve diet and physical activity, and expand the use of established screening tests.  These three things have the most impact on reducing your chances of being diagnosed with cancer.

About half of all Americans who keep smoking will die because of the habit.  Smoking accounts for about 30% of all cancer deaths in the United States, including about 80% of all lung cancer deaths.  Currently, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women, and is one of the hardest cancers to treat.  Quitting smoking before the age of 40 reduces the risk of dying from smoking-related disease by about 90%.

For most Americans who do not use tobacco, the most important cancer risk factors that can be changed are diet and physical activity.  One-third of all cancer deaths in the United States each year are linked to diet and physical activity, including being overweight or obese.  Eating a healthy diet and being physically active are good for you and will lower your risk of cancer.

Cancer screenings, like mammograms and colonoscopies, increase the chances of detecting certain cancers early, when they are most likely to be curable.  If you have a new health insurance plan or insurance policy beginning on or after September 23, 2010, there are several preventive services that are covered without you having to pay a copayment or co-insurance or meet your deductible.  Check out www.HHS.gov to see what preventive services covered under the Affordable Care Act.

By quitting or limiting your tobacco use, improving your diet and increasing physical activity, and getting your preventative screenings, you are taking an active role in living a healthier lifestyle and lowering your chances of cancer.

If you, or a loved one, has been diagnosed with cancer, or have questions about cancer treatment options available, please contact the MUSC Hollings Cancer Center today. 

Over 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States every year.  That is 33 women a day.

Unlike some other cancers, cervical cancer is not considered to be passed down through family genes.  It is caused by certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV).  When a female is infected with these types of HPV, and the virus doesn’t go away on its own, abnormal cells can develop in the lining of the cervix.  If these abnormal cells are not found early through routine cervical cancer screening and treated, cervical cancer can develop.

According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC), cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer for women worldwide, but because it develops over time, it is also one of the most preventable types of cancer.

The American Social Health Association (ASHA) and the NCCC have named January Cervical Health Awareness Month to encourage women across the country to get screened for cervical cancer and receive the HPV vaccine if they're eligible.

With South Carolina ranked ninth in the nation in cervical cancer deaths, our advanced diagnostics and treatments are a source of hope to thousands of women each year.  As South Carolina's only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, MUSC Hollings Cancer Center offers patients access to the most advanced gynecologic cancer research and clinical trials.

As we begin the start of a new year, many of us will make resolutions to get fit and live a healthier lifestyle.  As we buy our fruits and vegetables and set our workout goals, let’s not forget about our yearly preventative screenings.  Because cervical cancer is a preventable type of cancer, it is very important for women to get screened for cervical cancer (the test will happen during their yearly Pap tests). 

If you have any questions about cervical cancer, please visit the National Cervical Cancer Coalition.  For more information about Hollings Cancer Center’s Gynecologic Cancer Program, please click here

How long have you been a radiation therapist?

I have been a radiation therapist for 6 ½ years at MUSC.  I was a student here for 2 years, which paved the way for me.

Where did you receive your education?

I went to Armstrong State University in Savannah, Georgia, and was undecided on what career in the healthcare field I wanted to do.  I knew I wanted to help people, just not how.  I received my bachelor’s degree in radiologic science, specializing in radiation therapy.

Why did you become a radiation therapist?

I became a radiation therapist because I love to help and interact with people.  I love building a relationship and rapport with my patients.  Some people think that my job is sad and depressing, but it’s the complete opposite.  It is very rewarding!  I treat people the way I want to be treated, with love and respect.  The patients are going through a tough time and we are here for them in more ways than one.  I mean they are not here for a dental cleaning!

Describe one of your most memorable experiences since you began working at Hollings Cancer Center.

One of my most memorable experiences was when I treated a little boy named Ashton who had brain cancer.  He was only 4 years old and had to be put under anesthesia for his radiation.  He was very nervous and scared, so I and the nurse anesthetist tried to make it fun by getting Nerf guns and having “wars” before he had to be put under.  This also brought him out of his shell and made it easier for us to getting the treatment started. It is amazing how resilient and tough little kids are!  He brought so much joy to my life and made me realize why I was here.  I know without a shadow of a doubt, that I was meant to be a Radiation Therapist.  I truly love my job and my coworkers here at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center!

How do you stay abreast of the latest medical developments in your field?

I stay abreast of the latest medical developments in radiation therapy by doing continuing education, going to chart rounds, and conferences.  We are so thankful that Alliance Oncology has come into our department because they have helped us advance our technology and paved the way for the future!

In your spare time, what are your hobbies or special interests?

When I have spare time, I like to go boating and being outdoors with my family.  I am a new mom, so trying to find spare time can be changeling!  I also love being active and working out.  I use my lunch break to go to the gym every day.  It helps with stress and gives me a boost of energy.