If St. James Healthcare’s new Cancer Center linear accelerator were a car, it would be a Lexus or a Bentley.
Dr. Marc Nash introduced the $2.1 million Trilogy accelerator Wednesday, comparing it to a deluxe high-end car.
“It’s faster – it’s kinda like getting a new sports car,” said Nash, St. James radiation oncologist who trained on the Trilogy at the University of California at San Francisco. “That is a lot better for the patient because it can be uncomfortable lying on the gurney.”
Suggesting futuristic “Star Trek” movie technology, the Trilogy treats cancer tumors from multiple angles and uses laser-beam motion to track and precisely pinpoint tumors while lessening damage to surrounding healthy tissue.
It promises to reduce treatment times and increase dosage simultaneously, said Nash, and it can treat several kinds of cancer and diseases.
St. James has already seen a 60-percent increase in radiation treatments so far in 2015 – a stark increase from 2,000 radiation treatments in 2014. The new machine will help meet that demand.
“It will allow us to treat these patients and not delay them with scheduling conflicts due to longer treatments,’’ Nash said.
The giant 9-foot high, 15-foot deep machine, which accelerates electrons and creates photons, rotates 360-degrees around the patient. Side-arm imaging takes X-rays from “all sorts of orientations and angles,” added Nash.
Sophisticated image-matching software, displayed on computer monitors, guides staff in customizing each patient’s treatment.
St. James has treated five patients on the machine since Tuesday. The accelerator gives local cancer patients the convenience of staying in town for treatment.
“You don’t have to leave,” said Susan Mackey, radiation therapist. “You don’t have to go out of town for treatment.”
A 15- or 20-minute treatment on the old machine may now last 90 seconds, added Mackey, who trained two weeks with colleague Amanda Shanko on the Trilogy.
Despite the serious subject, high spirits permeated the large vault where the machine is housed.
Father Patrick Beretta of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church asked permission to bless the Trilogy with holy water.
“It might short out, but that’s OK,” teased Barbara Nawrocki, Cancer Center director, to loud laughter from about 25 in the room.
Father Beretta blessed all patients who will undergo treatment.
“Cancer … really bares the soul of the patient and it bears the souls of the medical doctors and the nurses who look after them,’’ he said. “It’s truly doing God’s work with centers like this. It’s this field … that offers so much promise for the future.”
The machine was paid for by the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust which bestowed a $3.59 million gift to the St. James Healthcare Foundation.
“This new machine brings us up to speed,” said Nash. “It’s a great addition to our cancer center, and I feel it will help us keep up with the demands of the community in terms of cancer care.”
New accelerator will enable patients to stay in Butte for treatment
The machine signifies completion of Phase I of the Cancer Center Expansion Project. Phase 2, slated to begin later this year, will expand the medical oncology area for patients.