MedWatch Today: Surface Guided Radiation Therapy Protects the Heart During Treatment

Med Watch Today

FRESNO, California (KSEE/KGPE) – After getting a breast cancer diagnosis, your heart health may be the last thing on your mind. But, if the cancer is in your left breast – right over your heart – treatment is more difficult. The medical director and the manager of radiation oncology at Community Cancer Institute explain a new and improved technique of radiation therapy that keeps your heart safer during treatment.

Radiation therapy is one of the most common treatments for cancer. It works by damaging genetic material within cancer cells–causing them to die. However, normal cells can also be affected by the radiation.

Alec Beach, the Manager of Radiation Oncology for Community Cancer Institute says, “So Surface Guided Radiation Therapy is a new modality — relatively new and new to us in the Valley, to help align patients even better and also to provide some techniques–improvements in accuracy, alignment and also in the breathing cycle of the patient to deliver radiation therapy at the optimal time.”

Surface Guided Radiation Therapy or SGRT has been particularly successful in treating breast cancer patients with cancer in the left breast.

Dr. William Silveira the Medical Director of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Community Cancer Institute says, “The problem with left sided breast cancer is that the heart is very close to the breast tissue. If we can get the heart out of the way, that helps tremendously. When we monitor the surface of the patient, we can have the patient take a very deep breath, pulling the heart down and out of the way, and therefore we can treat the patient while the heart is essentially completely out of the way, out of the beams, out of harm’s way.”

It’s all about timing and the careful placement of SGRT that will minimize the dosage of radiation to the normal tissues while delivering the maximum amount to the cancerous cells.

“There’s a significant reduction in the dose received by the heart with this technology. Many of our patients are now surviving, and down the road we don’t want them to experience cardiac disease. Radiation therapy for left sided breast cancer can contribute to cardiac disease. So, although it has a tremendous impact on survival and local control for breast cancer, we also have this potential complication down the road. Minimizing the dose to the heart, really saves patients a lot of trouble,” said Dr. Silveira.

The possible cardiac risks of radiation therapy are significantly reduced with SGRT treatment.

“I think there’s a lot of fear regarding radiation therapy and a lot of it has to do with heart disease. I, myself, do worry about heart disease from radiation therapy quite a bit. This technology allows us to reduce the risk of heart disease significantly by essentially taking the heart almost out of the picture. The risk to the heart would be minimal–much less than 5 percent,” Dr. Silveira said.

SGRT helps to keep the heart safe, but can also be used throughout the body.

“So SGRT can be used in multiple anatomical sites head and neck treatment in particular. Obviously, we’re treating the head or neck, the brain or the brain stem area–there’s a lot of critical structures in that area and the alignment in that area is crucial — so the mm accuracy is crucial so that’s a particularly good area that we’ll be implementing this in. But, it can also be used throughout the body, the abdomen, the pelvis for GYN cancer, for example, prostate treatment, basically anything where the surface can be used to align the treatment,” said Beach.

Community Cancer Institute is the only one in the Valley using this advanced technology and Beach says the program strives to be second to none.

“I would hope that the patients would take away that we’re here to do the very best that we can for them–yes, it’s technology, but it’s not just technology for technology’s sake, it’s with an outcome in mind and I want patients to know that we might take a little extra time to treat you, but I think that’s worth it,” Beach said.

And Dr. Silveira says it takes a collective effort, “It takes a lot to implement, however and we have a great team. Our physicist, dosimetrist and therapist all are really fantastic in putting this program together. So it’s technology plus people.”

To learn more about how community medical centers can help you or a loved one in prevention and treatment, visit

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