$4.2 million CyberKnife will decrease patients' recovery time

2014-07-21T17:15:00Z 2014-07-22T07:23:04Z $4.2 million CyberKnife will decrease patients' recovery timeBy MIKE FERGUSON mferguson@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

A new $4.2 million cancer-treating radiation tool at St. Vincent Healthcare’s Frontier Cancer Center will save patients time, tissue and travel — and, no doubt, some lives too.

St. Vincent took the wraps off its new CyberKnife Robotic Radiosurgery System Monday, although technicians and physicians won’t begin using it on patients until Aug. 5.

The new device, paid for by a grant from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, features a flexible robotic arm that can deliver high-level radiation accurately to tumors anywhere in the body, including the brain, pancreas, breast and other soft tissues.

The pinpoint delivery of radiation means a reduction in the loss of healthy tissue.

Speaking during a ceremony Monday afternoon, Dr. Lee McNeely, radiation oncologist at Frontier Cancer Center, said the system’s software is so sophisticated — and the robotic arm so nimble — that it can accurately deliver radiation to a tumor in a patient’s diaphragm, for example, even though the tumor moves as the patient inhales and exhales.

The new system will allow patients to complete treatment in one to five days, treatment that can take weeks using conventional radiation therapy. It also provides a pain-free, nonsurgical option for patients with inoperable or surgically complex tumors, or patients looking for an alternative to surgery.

The new technology “helps people stay connected in their community” by saving travel time and speeding the recovery time, McNeely said. “This is high-tech stuff. We promise we will take good care of it,” he said, smiling at Shelley Stingley, a program director with the Helmsley trust, who attended Monday’s ceremony.

The grant brings the Helmsley trust’s health-related-donation total to $23 million in Montana, Stingley said, “and we’re not done. We’re staying here as long as we can.”

“I have had cancer in my family,” Stingley told a crowd of reporters, health care providers and hospital officials gathered in the Frontier Cancer Center lobby to get a first look at the new machinery. “It’s important to keep them near the people who can heal them the best — their family.”

St. Vincent president and chief executive officer Steve Loveless said he appreciates the Helmsley trust’s “commitment to rural health care” and predicted the new machinery and software “will have a huge impact on patients in the vast geography we serve.”

Cathy Bealer, CEO of Frontier Cancer Center, said the center is excited to offer the CyberKnife, the only full-body radiosurgery device designed to help destroy tumors anywhere in the body. Patients and their families will appreciate the device’s accuracy and the shorter treatment course that kind of accuracy can produce, she said.

While the trust’s grant, announced in March, covered the purchase price of the equipment, a $1 million investment by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System, which operates St. Vincent Healthcare, created the space where the CyberKnife is housed.

“Funding is important, but this never would have happened if the Sisters of Charity hadn’t stepped forward,” said Stingley, who’s based in Sioux Falls, S.D. “This will be a program that saves lives in this area of the country. I’ll be back to see how you’re doing.”

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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