New equipment at Mission Hope Cancer Center to advance treatment of brain tumors

System uses laser beam to pinpoint small tumors

SANTA MARIA, Calif. - New equipment at Mission Hope Cancer Center is raising treatment there to an advanced level.

"This is a linear accelerator stereotactic radiosurgery system that we have just installed here at Mission Hope,” said Dr. Case Ketting, a radiation oncologist, while pointing at the Mission Hope TrueBeam radiotherapy machine.

The new system is designed to treat certain types of brain tumors. It will be administered by a neurosurgeon and radiaiton onocologist.

"We've always been able to treat brain tumors, but the real big advantage is that we're able to treat brain tumors in one to three treatments with doses that will kill them almost as well as surgery,” said. Dr. Ketting. “That's a big advantage when you have things like a patient who can't tolerate surgery."

Ketting said the system uses a rifle-barrel like device that turns a radiation beam into a very finely pinpoint laser beam that treats the tumor.

"(Tumors) can be as small as a tiny BB, four millimeters, five, six, seven millimeters,” said Dr. Ketting.  “We have to aim at that and that's what makes that beam very tight and focused so we can just treat that tumor and essentially do the equivalent of cutting it out without having to go through surgery."

Patients who undergo treatment remain still by laying inside a rigid fixation system that surrounds the upper body.

Custom-made “masks” are used by the patients during all of their treatments.

"These tumors can be treated anywhere within the brain,” said Dr. Matthew Schreckinger, an neurosurgeon with Dignity Health. “It can be one tumor, it can be multiple tumors, often either in one setting or multiple settings. The benefits would be no surgery is necessary. Other radiation like this require a placement of a frame, which involves placing posts in the skull to keep the patient's head rigid, whereas this, that's not necessary, so there's no need any sort of sedation or anesthesia.”

With the new system in place, cancer patients that require this specific type of treatment no longer have to travel beyond Santa Maria.

Previously, those who needed stereotactic brain radiosurgery needed to travel to Santa Barbara, Thousand Oaks or Los Angeles.

"With us being able to offer this now, we're able to keep patients local and they won't have to travel,” said Dr. Schreckinger. "With adding this, it's that's much more we can offer for patients with cancer here in the Central Coast to be able to keep them here and not have to travel far distances for their treatment."

The new radiotherapy equipment has not been used on a patient so far.

Mission Hope officials say they expect the first patient any day now.

The enhanced treatment is the latest addition to wide-range of comprehensive cancer care provided at Mission Hope.

On Wednesday, April 10, the Day of Hope fundraiser will raise money to help out many of the free services patients receive there.

"The Day of Hope has really been fabulous for us,” said Dr. Ketting. “I see the benefits of that in the supportive services, transportation services, psychological counseling, and all those ancillary services for cancer patients that they need, but nobody pays for it and Day of Hope has been critical to support that for us."

The Day of Hope will be held in Santa Maria, Orcutt, Nipomo, Lompoc and Santa Ynez.

Special edition Santa Maria Times newspapers will be sold in those communities for $1. 

All proceeds go directly towards Mission Hope cancer patients.

For more information, visit on the Day of Hope website.

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