St. Mary's Has New Cancer Therapy

Reporter: Shannon Samson

The Tomotherapy Hi-Art system is a massive machine because it does the work of several.

Not only does it deliver radiation, it helps doctors plan treatment and position patients correctly. Cancer patient Katie Heerdink says, "Oh god, this machine is awesome!"

Katie Heerdink is only 23, but she's dealing with a second bout of synovial cell sarcoma. This time, every time she went in for radiation, the Tomotherapy system would produce a 3-D image of her tumor, so doctors could verify it was where it was supposed to be, as well as nearby organs.

Radiation oncologist Dr. Michael Miller says, "If they aren't, we can make adjustments in the treatment system right where we want it to go and that's a huge advantage compared to traditional radiation therapy."

Because Tomotherapy delivers radiation in a spiral pattern, doctors can treat the tumor at the base of Katie's spine while avoiding her spinal cord. Dr. Miller says, "So we can shape around the tumor and minimize the radiation to normal structures that might be very near that tumor."

With traditional therapy, Katie says she suffered such painful radiation burns that it hurt when her shirt touched her back. This time, there was none of that. No fatigue either. "I was in a lot of pain whenever I started on the Tomotherapy and within a week, it was gone, all of it."

After finishing radiation just days ago, she doesn't know yet how much her tumor shrunk, but she says she can tell it's smaller just because she's feeling so much better.

Dr. Miller says Tomotherapy will be especially beneficial to patients who have cancer of the prostate, brain or head and neck. Now, they won't have to go to a larger hospital for treatment.