Less is Sometimes Better

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October 04, 2013

We hear a lot lately about ‘more’ being better, but that is not always the best-case scenario.  For the staff at Bronson Battle Creek’s Cancer Care Center, less can sometimes turn out to be the better choice, at least in the radiation oncology area. 


Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells.  Treatments must be carefully planned to reduce side effects.  Before those treatments can be administered, there needs to be a series of tests, some of those also contain radiation.


Take a computed axial tomography, sometimes referred to as a CT or CAT scan for example.  It is used to diagnose certain diseases like lung, pancreatic, and throat cancers.  In radiation oncology, this test is used to take a three-dimensional image of the body through the use of radiography.  Once completed, they can construct a cross-section of images through a computer link so a treatment plan can be devised.  A key component in these scans involves a certain amount of radiation from an x-ray machine. 


Since more and more diagnoses involve ‘scans,’ they increase the amount of radiation treatments a patient may receive over their lifetime.  The Bronson staff, in its ongoing effort to reduce exposure to these rays, began altering their techniques to lower the radiation dose.  


But before they could do that, they conducted a study to examine the current patient radiation doses to make certain they were as low as possible based on recommendations by national regulatory authorities.  Since those goals were already in place, the staff took it another step forward by testing the results of lowering the dosages by 5%.  CT images were examined and the staff found that they continued to supply needed information without compromise.  So, the dosages were lowered yet again by another 5%, and again the staff found that the images they got were effective without sacrificing quality results.   


“Radiation dose management is a top patient safety and quality concern for us,” said Randy Mudge, MD and director of the cancer center’s radiation oncology department.  “We have an obligation to everyone who entrusts their health to us, to minimize the risk of harm.  These studies are helping us do that by reducing our patients’ exposure during CT scans.”


Every patient is different, so it is up to the cancer center staff to make certain that when they develop a treatment plan, it is tailor-made for each patient.  The BBC Cancer Care Center protocol follows the ALARA concept— giving As Low As Reasonably Achievable doses as possible.


“Our radiation dose management team is multi-disciplined--made up of a radiation oncologist, radiation physicists, dosimetrists, and therapists,” said Dr. Mudge.  “Through our ongoing studies we have lowered the radiation dose to our patients without sacrificing image quality.  That is after all what these types of scans are for—to create an image that helps us identify the cancer with little negative effect to our patients.


“To destroy cancer cells, it is important to use higher and more targeted radiation.  However, from a planning standpoint, the challenge is to lower the dose without diminishing the resolution.  In other words, our goal is to lower the dose wherever possible, but doing it in a way that we can still get the important information so we can plan a course of treatment.


“We never lose sight that we are here to treat the patient, not just the disease.  This study and others are helping us be more effective in how we are able to treat our patients more safely than ever.”


If you would like more information about the many programs offered at the Bronson Battle Creek Cancer Care Center, call (269) 245-8660 or visit http://www.bronsonhealth.com/locations/bronson-battle-creek-hospital/cancer-care-at-bronson-battle-creek-hospital.