One year after the BC Cancer Agency Centre for the North opened its doors in Prince George, it continues to add new services for regional patients.
During the centre's first birthday celebrations on Friday, radiation oncologist Dr. Stacy Miller demonstrated how two brachytherapy techniques are helping local patients get specialized treatment closer to home.
Brachytherapy is a branch of radiation treatment where the radiation source is placed very close to the site of the cancer, rather than shot from an external location.
"The benefit of that is we can provide a high dose of radio therapy treatment to the source while avoiding the normal structures around it the best we can," Miller said.
Currently the centre is providing brachytherapy treatments for women who develop endometrial cancer after a hysterectomy and the planning component of the care for men with prostate cancer.
For endometrial the treatment involves inserting a radio source into the patient, close to the site of the cancer, and leaving it there for anywhere from six to nine minutes. The radioactive material is stored on a wire in a portable vault and is applied to the cancer site through the use of a transfer tube.
"It's a very localized dose that's applied to a very specific area," Miller said, noting about a half dozen women have received the treatment in Prince George so far and more are planned.
Prior to the application of the high dose rate it would take hours rather than minutes for treatment and patients often had to be admitted to hospital for 24 to 48 hours.
For prostate cancer, patients at the Centre for the North can now have their treatment plans conducted in Prince George, but they still need to visit another site to actually receive the treatment.
By providing the ultrasound and planning in Prince George, it saves northern patients at least one trip to another cancer agency site. Seventeen patients have already had their treatment planned locally, with two more scheduled for Monday.
"It's been a really good opportunity to bring some of the care closer to home so patients can have that first step done here," he said.
The actual treatment is often done in Vancouver involves a surgical procedure where tiny radioactive seeds are implanted right into the prostate.
Brachytherapy can be used to treat other forms of cancer, but currently patients have to travel to other BC Cancer Agency sites to receive it.
Miller said they started with the two types of care they're currently providing due to local demand.
"This was our first priority because of all of the sites [of cancer], there are more ladies with endometrial cancer who will benefit," she said. "There are other brachytherapy applications where we can insert the radiation into an airway or into an esophagus, treating just a small difference from the source."
With the two brachytherapy techniques now in use in Prince George, Miller said the plan for 2014 is to begin using stereotactic radiation techniques to the centre. That uses an external radiation beam to provide a high does of radiation to a small spot.
"We have the equipment, it's developing the technology and developing our own system here," she said of work that's taking place for the stereotactic launch. "It's a quite a specialized planning process."