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Stereotactic Body Radiation Helping Those With Pancreatic Cancer

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Posted at 3:16 PM, Aug 20, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-08 04:42:48-04

BALTIMORE. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Stereotactic body radiation, or SBRT, has been a radiation therapy designed to treat tumors and protect healthy tissue at the same time. It’s been used successfully in patients with lung, brain and spinal cord tumors. But now, researchers said SBRT may also help some patients with pancreatic cancer, traditionally one of the deadliest and most difficult cancers to treat.

Lorri and Randall Swan have been tough opponents on the tennis court, but at home they have worked as a team researching every option to fight Randall’s pancreatic cancer.

“It will come back haunt you if you don’t hit it with as big a hammer as you can,” Randall told Ivanhoe.

In some ways, Randall said he’s extremely lucky. Doctors caught it early, which has been rare for this type of cancer.

“To put it into perspective, this tumor is only about half the size of a small pea, not a whole lot, but it was strategically located that it caused me symptoms,” said Randall.

Radiation Oncologist at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore, Dr. Joseph Herman, has been studying the use of SBRT in pancreatic patients. By mapping the exact location of the tumor, experts have delivered a precise dose every day for just five days.

“Because we can deliver a short course of radiation with very minimal toxicity, this allows radiation to be added to other therapies,” Dr. Herman said.

He also said in some patients the SBRT reduced the size of the tumor, and made surgery an option. For a few, the SBRT wiped out the tumor.

“That was pretty shocking for us because we didn’t expect that dose of radiation to completely eradicate the cancer,” explained Dr. Herman.

Randall had surgery to remove the cancer, followed by SBRT. He is cancer-free, for now.

Dr. Herman said the SBRT treatment isn’t for all patients with pancreatic cancer. People with cancers larger than three inches or have a tumor invading the bowel area or stomach usually have not been able to get SBRT because of the risk to normal tissue.

BACKGROUND: According to the American Cancer Society, 48,960 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the United States this year. Of those, 40,560 people will die from the disease. The pancreas is an organ that sits right behind the stomach. It is shaped somewhat like a fish with a wide head and a pointed tail. The pancreas is usually about 6 inches long and 2 inches wide in adults and has two different types of glands: exocrine and endocrine glands. The exocrine glands create pancreatic juice which helps you digest your food. The juice is released into the intestines, and without it, the food you eat would not be absorbed. More than 95 percent of the cells in the pancreas are in the exocrine glands. A smaller percentage of the cells in the pancreas are endocrine cells. The endocrine cells form small clusters known as islets which make hormones such as insulin and glucagon. These hormones are released directly into the blood to help regulate blood sugar. Pancreatic cancer can be found in exocrine cells and endocrine cells of the pancreas but both form different types of tumors.

ENDOCRINE AND EXOCRINE TUMORS: Exocrine tumors are the most common type of pancreas cancer. About 95 percent of cancers in the exocrine cells are known as adenocarcinomas. These cancers can begin in the ducts of the pancreas and can also develop from the cells that make up pancreatic enzymes. Endocrine tumors make up less than four percent of all pancreatic cancers. These cancers are usually known as pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors or NETs. NETs can be benign or malignant, and can look alike under a microscope. As a result, diagnosis may only become clear once the tumor has spread outside of the pancreas. Jeffrey Drebin, MD, Chairman of the Department of Surgery at the Perelman School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania told Ivanhoe “Unfortunately, most people with pancreas cancer are diagnosed when the disease has already spread and are not able to have a surgical cure.” (Source)

NEW TECHNOLOGY: SBRT or stereotactic body radiation is a therapy that, according to Joseph Herman, MD, MSc, Radiation Oncologist at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, “Allows doctors to deliver very focused radiation to a very specific area over a very short period of time.” With SBRT, patients are given radiation for five to six weeks for five consecutive days. Dr. Herman says that some benefits to the SBRT treatments are incredible. “We found that a number of patients who were thought to not be surgical candidates were able to get surgery,” he said. In addition, the treatment has eradicated the cancer altogether in some cases. So far, SBRT has been successful in treating brain, spine and lung tumors. (Source: Joseph Herman, MD) MORE.