Increasing Precision, Decreasing Treatment Times

James Eckman, MD, shares new technologies and multidisciplinary approaches to radiation therapy at Baptist Health Louisville

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LOUISVILLE Nearly two-thirds of all cancer patients will receive radiation therapy during their illnesses1, and the Baptist Health Louisville Radiation Center is proud to offer its patients the newest technology and treatment services available.

James Eckman, MD, has been with Baptist Health Medical Group and Baptist Health Radiation Oncology since 2009 and is excited about the therapy that is available to his patients.

“We offer two radiation centers for our patients, Baptist Radiation Oncology off Kresge Way at the main hospital in St. Matthews and Baptist Eastpoint Radiation Center in the east end of Louisville,” states Eckman. “Our staff includes four doctors, two physicists, seven therapists, three dosimetrists, nurses, and many others who are highly trained to help our patients navigate their cancer treatment.”

The centers are equipped with both standard linear accelerators and advanced linear accelerators that administer radiation. The Varian Truebeam® Radiotherapy System is an advanced accelerator that offers a new type of Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT). “This new type of IMRT rotates around the patient’s body slowly, providing therapy that is much faster and more comfortable,” states Eckman. “Because procedure time is cut down from 15 minutes to only about two minutes, the risk of tumor motion decreases as well, providing a much more precise radiation treatment.”

Baptist Health also has a Novalis® Radiosurgery unit, which provides a very high dose of radiation that lessens the amount of treatments a patient might need. “The Novalis was initially used for brain tumors, but now we are able to treat outside of cranial targets throughout the body, currently lung, spine, and liver tumors,” states Eckman. “The machine delivers a high level, very precise radiation dose in one to five treatments as opposed to the standard radiation therapy of 25 to 30 treatments, providing better tumor control, fewer side effects, and increased patient comfort and convenience.” Radiation therapy is an important part of the overall cancer program at Baptist Health Louisville and works hand-in-hand with other disciplines and services throughout the hospital. Most of the department’s patient referrals come from medical oncologists, and about 40 percent of patients are treated with combined chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

“We’re in close contact with our medical oncology colleagues on a daily basis, so we have a finely interwoven cooperation,” adds Eckman. “We also have a multidisciplinary thoracic clinic (mainly lung and esophageal cancer), where we have the thoracic surgeon, medical oncologist, and the radiation oncologist working together evaluating the patients, so it streamlines the process of recommending therapy.”

The physicians also gather weekly at multidisciplinary conferences on breast, lung, and general cancer. Representing five different disciplines, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgeons, pathologists, and radiologists come together to discuss the best therapy for five to six different cases each week.

On top of the center’s multidisciplinary care approach to cancer treatment, patients also have access to nurse navigators that help guide them through the treatment process, a PET scan for post-treatment checkups, oncologic social workers for ancillary problems that might arise, and a cancer resource center that can provide additional help, services, and information for patients as well as their family members and friends.

And the cancer center is always actively involved in clinical trials, researching different methods and ways to make treatment more effective and efficient. Eckman is currently the principal investigator for the NRG-B51 (RTOG 1304) federal breast cancer trial, studying breast cancer patients who have received chemotherapy that has cleared their lymph nodes and who might not need chest wall radiation therapy after mastectomy or nodal radiation after lumpectomy.

“With our multidisciplinary approach to fighting cancer and the new technologies and trials available, the side effects of radiation therapy have decreased significantly,” states Eckman. “Patients are now experiencing faster treatment times and shorter treatment schedules, which definitely gets them on the road to recovery much sooner than before.”

And we’re all thankful for that.

1 Physician Characteristics and Distribution in the Us, 2008 edition, 2004 IMV Medical Information Division, 2003 SROA Benchmarking Survey. ASTRO.org