Radiation oncologist says radiation cancer treatment benefits patients wanting to avoid surgery

Ask the Expert

GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – For those battling cancer, Bon Secours’ radiation oncologist Dr. Albert Attia believes radiation therapy could offer successful treatment that doesn’t involve surgery.

“Unfortunately, it’s one of those things where unless the surgeon or medical oncologist raises the awareness or patients will never know,” Dr. Attia said. “Patients kind of need to be their own advocate in some regards.”

He said the treatment is often under-utilized, particularly for skin cancer patients who have cancerous areas removed during surgery rather than using localized radiation treatment to shrink cancerous tumors.

“I’ve had elderly patients come to me with pieces missing from nose or ear and they’ve never been told about radiation,” he said.

He added that this could also especially help patients with lung, bladder or prostate cancers who want another option other than surgery to remove cancerous areas.

“With bladder cancer, a lot of folks just get the bladder taken out. That that can really have a detriment to quality of life, when in fact, with chemotherapy and radiation, oftentimes the bladder can be preserved,” he said.

Dr. Attia explained that radiation treatment typically ranges from one-time sessions to seven weeks of sessions in which patients will stay still under a machine, which creates free radicals and aims them at cancerous tumors to shrink them.

“The reason why it doesn’t cause a tremendous amount of harm is, even though the radiation may hit some of the normal cells around the tumor, those normal cells are able to repair,” he said. “Cancer cells often don’t have good repair mechanisms. As a result, that’s why they die.”

Bon Secours is using a machine that cuts down on the time patients have to stay still called the Edge Linear Accelerator.

The machine uses a type of facial recognition software that monitors a person’s face or their chest and can track that while they’re getting a treatment, making sure they’re not moving, Dr. Attia explained.

“It is going to allow us to give really precise treatment called stair tactic radiotherapy,” he said. “That’s that pinpoint treatment we can do from head to toe. What’s unique about this machine is a couple of things: one it’s how fast it delivers the radiation. Some of the older machines would take upwards of 40 minutes, sometimes 4 hours, so you can imagine an elderly patient having to stay still for that long. Also, it’s a lot better at tracking the patient, making sure they don’t move during the treatment. If the patient moves during treatment then you can’t detect that and it’s essentially useless.”

Cancer patients are urged to ask their doctor about radiation therapy options. However, Dr. Attia warned that radiation therapy could cause other cancers in children 15 to 20 years after treatment.

“In the pediatric population there is a potential risk, but in the adult population, the risk of getting cancer from radiation is no different than if you hadn’t had radiation,” he said.

According to the American Cancer Society, more than half of people with cancer in the U.S. get radiation therapy.

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