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  • Radiation therapist Sarah Kocher lays on a table to demonstrate the TrueBeam radiotherapy system and deep breathing techniques that are making breast cancer treatment safer by minimizing risk of radiation exposure to the heart at The Lutheran Comprehensive Breast Center on Thursday. Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette

Thursday, May 31, 2018 3:16 pm

Lutheran unveils new breast cancer technology

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

Dr. Mark Ranck understands the fear his oncology patients feel.

"When you hear 'cancer,' you just want to cure it at all costs," he said today.

Thanks to new technology at the Lutheran Cancer Center, treating breast cancer no longer has to mean exposing the patient's heart to potentially damaging levels of radiation, Ranck said.

Lutheran Health Network officials invited the media in for a demonstration of the TrueBeam Radiotherapy System made by Varian. Ranck, who practices with Radiation Oncology Associates, explained the technology.

The equipment, which sells for about $4 million, delivers radiation to carefully selected areas to stop cancer from coming back after a tumor has already been removed surgically. Those areas can include lymph nodes.

Chemotherapy, by contrast, flows through the entire body.

One downside of other breast cancer radiation treatments is that the heart and lungs can receive an unnecessarily high dose of radiation. Studies have found that every unit of radiation translates into a 7 percent risk of future heart attack, Ranck said.

But medical scans show that when someone takes a deep breath, the inflated lungs push the heart out of the way of radiation beams aimed at the breast.

TrueBeam allows two specially trained therapists to monitor a patient's exact position and breathing patterns. Radiation is administered only when every one of seven indicators show green for go.

For more on this story, see Friday's print edition or go online to after 1 a.m. Friday.