Valley-Mount Sinai is using latest radiotherapy cancer technology — closer to home for Jerseyans

When radiation oncologist Dr. Michael Wesson held a post at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, he’d often welcome patients in after they just completed the bumper-to-bumper commute from New Jersey for their cancer care needs.

Today, as co-medical director of radiation oncology at Paramus-based Valley-Mount Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Care, he’s proud to report they’re (literally) reversing course for those local patients.

“The technology, at the time, was better in the city,” he said. “Now, we’re in the suburbs and it’s great to be able to offer here, close to home, everything they’d do in cities’ major institutions. And sometimes, it’s better than what they have.”

In fact, it’s not just patients — oncology professionals are coming from all over the region to potentially benefit from the offerings of the cancer-focused collaboration between Mount Sinai with Valley health systems.

That’s according to Dr. Ephraim Casper, the organization’s chief medical officer and chair of oncology services for Valley Medical Group.

“Because we have such state-of-the-art technology, providers from other organizations often come to see what we’re doing,” he said. “Our doctors (also) go out and teach people how to use the equipment that we have. That’s something that distinguishes us.”

What patients and other providers are finding is that there is technology that’s meant to provide a higher level of accuracy in the planning and administration of radiotherapy. That’s a big deal for these oncologists, whose goal is always to improve the precision of radiation meant to kill or halt cancerous cells — while also minimizing radiation exposure everywhere else.

“The more accurate you are, the tighter you can make the treatment fields, which allows you to increase the dose, because you’re avoiding the normal surrounding tissue,” Wesson said. “By increasing the dose, you accomplish a couple of things: Improving cancer control and cure rates (as well as) accelerating the treatment.”

Within recent years, the local cancer care center has equipped all three of its accelerator machines (used to deliver beam radiation treatments) with what’s referred to as ExacTrac Dynamic by medical technology company BrainLab.

By doing so, Wesson explained that they’re able to better visualize what they’re treating in the body or on its surface. They can also better detect any movement in the patient receiving treatment.

As he alluded to, when the precision of these radiotherapies improves, cancer care teams can deliver higher doses of radiation that might reduce a month- or two-month-long treatment course to just a couple weeks. Depending on a few factors, including other technologies being put to use, the timeline could be just five, three or even one session.

Wesson is quick to add some context, and a potential caveat: Each of those visits are more involved and longer for patients than a longer-term radiation treatment.

“(But) it’s a hardship sometimes for patients to come for treatment once a day, five days a week, for up to eight weeks,” he said. “If we could do it all in some cases in one to three visits, it’s much easier on patients.”

If the cure rates weren’t comparable, and if the treatment wasn’t as well-tolerated by patients, then the shorter duration wouldn’t be as attractive. But, across the board, Wesson said clinical trials have shown positive results in both of those areas for this accelerated course of care.

Not many institutions in the region have fully embraced the mix of radiotherapy technologies that the Valley-Mount Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Care has yet, but there’s apparently a trending interest in it.

“(That’s why) people are coming in from other hospitals wanting to learn about this system, because they’re thinking of getting it and want to see how we use it and what we use it for,” Wesson said.

For patients, the draw is all in having access to the best treatment options they can get.

“A lot of them come in, get treatment, then go — and don’t want to know too much about the technology; others are very intrigued and interested in it,” Wesson said. “We don’t market this to them per se, but we do reassure them they’re getting the most advanced radiation (therapy) they can get. Patients like to know (that).”