Stereotactic body radiation therapy: a new option for pancreatic cancer patients

A decade ago, pancreatic cancer was treated with five to six weeks of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Patients often experienced side effects that drastically impacted their quality of life and saw little survival benefit. But a type of radiation therapy called stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) is now offering some pancreatic cancer patients a better option. We spoke with Joseph Herman, M.D., to learn more. What makes stereotactic body radiation therapy different? Standard radiation therapies use a wider beam with a lower dose over a longer period of time. But SBRT is like a laser beam. We can deliver a more precise, higher dose of radiation in a shorter amount of time. So, whereas standard radiation therapy requires weeks of treatment, SBRT requires only five days, preferably consecutively. And each session is about 40 minutes, so there’s much less disruption to patients’ lives.   Also, because SBRT is so effective, it may reduce the need for long-term chemotherapy for some patients. How is stereotactic body radiation therapy more precise? SBRT has a narrower beam of radiation that allows us to more precisely target the tumor. Also, when a patient breathes, the tumor moves about a centimeter. To protect normal tissues from radiation exposure, we can track the tumor’s movement during breathing and activate the radiation beam only when the body is in a certain position. Or we can have the patient hold his or her breath for a few seconds and radiate the tumor when the body is still. And to better target the radiation beam, we can implant two or three fiducials, which are gold markers the size...