Cancer treatment without side-effects? New radiation technique makes it possible

IRVINE, Calif. — Cancer treatment has come a long way over the years. While radiation therapy has saved countless lives, many patients have to deal with painful side-effects after standard treatments. Cancer remedies without these problems have been a dream for oncologists. Now, a study finds a new method of delivering radiation in a fraction of the time traditional therapies take can remove the debilitating after effects of killing tumors.

Researchers from the University of California, Irvine and Switzerland’s Lausanne University say FLASH radiation therapy (FLASH-RT) delivers a high dose of radiation in a few tenths of a second. Standard radiation on brain cancer exposes the tumor and the surrounding tissue to radiation for several minutes during each session. With FLASH RT, the same dose is projected at the tumor in seconds. Study authors say this eliminates many of the toxic effects of sustained exposure to radiation.

“It’s not unreasonable to expect that in 10 years, this may become a widespread option for radiotherapy patients worldwide,” UCI’s professor of radiation oncology Charles Limoli says in a university release.

Standard radiation treatments to the brain can cause inflammation and impairments to cognitive functioning. The new technique fractionates the dosage and delivers it over several sessions. The study finds brain tumors are still removed just as effectively with FLASH when compared to regular brain tumor radiation treatments.

“This is very important, since fractionation is the standard in the clinic and the easiest way to transfer FLASH-RT at the clinical level,” adds principal investigator Marie-Catherine Vozenin, an adjunct professor at UCI.

More than brain tumors: FLASH-RT can tackle multiple types of cancer

While the study focused on brain tumors, researchers say FLASH-RT has also been successful at treating lung, skin, and intestinal cancers. These tests were conducted using fish, mice, pigs, cats, and even one human patient. The lightning-quick procedure continued to deliver results without side-effects.

“It seems that this treatment is going to be universally beneficial for most cancer types,” Limoli says. “In the last 30 or 40 years, I’d say, there’s been nothing in the field of radiation sciences as exciting as this.”

The study reports that medical groups around the world are now developing FLASH-RT machines that would make the technology available in cancer clinics. One device is already awaiting approval for use in the United States and Europe.

The study appears in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

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About the Author

Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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