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Philanthropy keeps UMass Memorial’s radiation oncology on the leading edge

Charitable foundations fund purchase of advanced radiation therapy system

In health care, philanthropy helps to bridge the gap between what is and what could be, enabling a hospital to provide the best-possible patient care in ways that can often be transformative. The UMass Memorial Medical Center Radiation Oncology Department, located on the Medical Center’s University Campus, is a case in point.

With generous support from three charitable foundations—the George I. Alden Trust, the Ruth H. and Warren A. Ellsworth Foundation and the Hoche-Scofield Foundation—the clinic was able to acquire what its physicians agree is the most advanced radiation therapy system currently available.

TrueBeamTM STx from Varian Medical Systems is a state-of-the-art linear accelerator specially configured for advanced radiosurgery. It uses sophisticated imaging technology to capture images of a tumor, even when the tumor moves due to a patient’s natural breathing patterns. The machine then uses these images to ensure that the radiation beams are always targeting the tumor. This enables a radically different approach to treating cancer with image-guided radiotherapy.

“Because we are able to image the patient before and even during the treatment, we can use the TrueBeam system for a wide range of frameless radiosurgery” said Yuan-Chyuan Lo, PhD, director of medical physics, radiation oncology at UMass Memorial.

Equally important, the TrueBeam STx alters the shape and the intensity of the radiation beam to match the shape of a tumor—what’s called intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). This precision ensures that the optimal dose of radiation targets the tumor while sparing healthy surrounding tissue, resulting in fewer complications or side effects.

“With increased reliability, the duration of treatment can decrease as a greater dose can be administered at a time,” Dr. Lo said.

“Enabling UMass Memorial to provide the best quality radiation oncology services is at the heart of our contribution.”

This accuracy and precision also enable doctors to target cancers in difficult or hard-to-reach areas, including head and neck, breast, lung, paraspinal, gynecologic, pancreas, brain and prostate. It can be used to treat primary tumors as well as metastatic disease, and for palliative pain management and treatment of scar tissue. What’s more, it is effective for both adult and pediatric patients.

The need for the new system was undeniable.

Radiation therapy is a vital part of treatment for many types of cancer; in fact, 50 percent of people with cancer are treated with radiation therapy. As one of the largest and most respected radiation oncology centers in the eastern United States, UMass Memorial treats approximately 150 cancer patients each day with radiation therapy—90 of them on the University campus alone.

The radiation therapy equipment that had been in use there was installed 20 years ago. It had been modified and adapted with parts from other equipment that had been replaced with newer models at UMass Memorial – Marlborough Hospital and UMass Memorial – HealthAlliance Hospital.

But keeping up with the technological advances in the radiation oncology field is an expensive proposition. And in today’s shifting health care reimbursement environment, academic medical centers like UMass Memorial face substantial financial pressures on their clinical, education and research activities. With shrinking margins, operational revenues simply don’t cover expenditures of this magnitude.

“We were proud to support the purchase of this equipment,” said Warner Fletcher, chair of the George I. Alden Trust. “Enabling UMass Memorial to provide the best quality radiation oncology services is at the heart of our contribution.”

“Because of this significant upgrade of technology, we’re now able to offer the latest technology at all of our sites,” said Christopher Riberdy, director of radiation oncology for UMass Memorial Medical Center. “In fact, we’re the only facilities in Central Massachusetts to have these TrueBeam systems. We couldn’t have done it without this generous support.”


Image courtesy of Varian Medical Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.