Precision Technology

Radiosurgical tool fights cancer non-invasively

Picture a highly effective cancer treatment that is non-surgical, painless and requires zero downtime. Called the CyberKnife® Robotic Radiosurgery System, this powerful treatment option is now available at Inova Fairfax Hospital for patients who prefer a non-invasive alternative to cancer surgery, or who have previously been ineligible for other treatments.

“The CyberKnife is a robotic radiation delivery platform that essentially allows the radiation oncologist, in conjunction with a team of other providers, to deliver very precise radiation in very high doses to any location within the body,” says Gopal Bajaj, MD, Chairman of Radiation Oncology at Inova Fairfax Hospital. “It’s an excellent, completely non-invasive option for patients with tumors that are either not amenable to surgery or for patients who are otherwise not candidates for surgery.”

Leading-Edge Therapy

The CyberKnife system delivers beams of radiation from numerous angles to precisely target a tumor without affecting nearby tissue. Supported by a flexible robotic arm, the specialized machine administers high-energy X-rays to cancer sites located anywhere in the body, including the brain, head and neck, spine, lung, prostate, liver, pancreas and breast. CyberKnife therapy targets cancer cells at any stage and may be performed as a stand-alone treatment or alongside traditional surgery, chemotherapy or conventional radiation therapy.

“It’s a very exciting opportunity for us in that we’re able to offer the most cutting-edge technology to deliver high doses of radiation to anywhere within the body in the most precise fashion available,” says Dr. Bajaj.

Unlike traditional radiosurgery, which may involve multiple treatments over the course of several weeks, CyberKnife therapy can be completed in just one to five days. Since the outpatient procedure is pain-free, anesthesia is not necessary.

One of the biggest advantages of the CyberKnife system is its use of image-guided software to track the exact location of a tumor even as the patient moves or breathes. Whereas conventional radiosurgery often requires the patient to be stabilized by an uncomfortable, sometimes invasive frame, the CyberKnife’s gentler approach adjusts for patient movement with tremendous precision, allowing the patient to breathe normally and remain comfortable during treatment.

 Seamless Process

Prior to therapy, the medical team will develop an individualized treatment plan for the patient. In some cases, preparing for treatment may involve placement of tiny gold markers called fiducials near the tumor to guide the CyberKnife system during treatment. The medical team will also create an MRI and a CT or PET scan to gather precise information about the patient’s tumor.

During treatment, the patient relaxes on a cushioned table. Monitored by the medical team, the CyberKnife system revolves around the patient, delivering radiation to the tumor. Each treatment session lasts 30 to 90 minutes. Patients typically resume their normal activities immediately following treatment with no recovery time necessary.

“It’s a lot less invasive and the outcomes are wonderful,” notes CyberKnife Coordinator Elizabeth Heneghan, BSN, CLIN III, CBCN, of the technology.

Experts on Your Side

The radiation oncology team at Inova Fairfax Hospital provides radiation therapy to more patients than any other facility in the Washington, DC, region. The team brings together highly trained specialists from multiple disciplines who work in concert to deliver the best care to each individual patient. Specialists on the team include radiation oncologists, neurosurgeons, thoracic surgeons, surgical oncologists, radiation therapists, physicists, dosimetrists and radiosurgical nurses. Heneghan, who helps patients schedule appointments, facilitates communication among specialists and provides educational information, coordinates the treatment process.

“The CyberKnife is an amazing tool, but the really great thing about it is that it’s in the hands of the best multidisciplinary team of oncologists and radiation oncologists and surgeons in the DC metropolitan area,” says Dr. Bajaj. “That’s what really sets us apart.”

Bringing It All Together

If your doctor recommends CyberKnife treatment, CyberKnife Coordinator Elizabeth Heneghan, BSN, CLIN III, CBCN, is there to help you every step of the way, from your first consultation through treatment and follow-up. With more than 20 years of nursing experience, including five years within the radiation oncology department at Inova Fairfax Hospital, Heneghan provides patients with the expertise and compassionate care they need to achieve the best possible outcomes.

“This is an amazing opportunity,” says Heneghan. “To be able to follow these patients from the start of their adventure to the follow-up, and just the bonds that I get to have with them, I feel very privileged to have this job.”

Having earned a certificate in radiation oncology and her certification as a breast care nurse, Heneghan is happy to contribute her expertise and experience to the Inova Fairfax radiation oncology team.

“I’ve worked in a lot of specialties all over the world and I’ve never worked with a better group of physicians or patients than I have here,” says Heneghan. “I love coming to work every day.”

Heneghan can be reached at 703.776.8225 or at elizabeth.heneghan@inova.org.

Personalized Care

To find out if CyberKnife treatment is right for you, call 703.776.8225 or visit inova.org/cyberknife.