Saving lives one millimetre at a time

In radiation medicine, every millimetre of increased precision means a greater possibility to save more lives. Recent advances in technology have increased both the degree of precision and the range of tumours that can be treated, including those previously difficult to treat.

Radiation therapy is one of the most technically advanced cancer therapies, requiring a degree in engineering to fully grasp how it works. But an easy concept to understand is that precision is important. Precision ensures that only the tumour is treated, while sparing surrounding healthy tissue to the greatest degree possible. Precision means the cancer treatment can be targeted much more effectively, even as the tumour moves with each breath or from intestinal or bladder filling or motion. This is why precision is vitally important for developers of radiation medicine, including engineers at Sweden-based Elekta, a leader in the field of precision radiation medicine.

A commonly used method in radiation therapy is called external beam therapy, which directs radiation at the tumour from outside the body while the patient is lying down. The beam moves invisibly through the body to target the tumour’s location. To be certain that all cancer cells are destroyed, radiation oncologists need to treat a slightly wider space around the tumour, called a safety margin. If you imagine a tumour the shape of an orange, the safety margin would be the thick peel around the orange.

Increased precision means reducing this safety margin to a minimum, sparing healthy tissue and vital organs from being exposed to radiation. The smaller the safety margin, the fewer the side effects.

‘With the latest tools, Elekta has been able to decrease the margin from 1–2 cm to 1–2 mm in some cases,’ says Kevin Brown, Distinguished Scientist at Elekta.

Back to the orange: this would mean that almost the entire peel, representing healthy tissue, is spared. Elekta has made this increased precision possible by developing a machine to deliver radiation that is equipped with built-in magnetic resonance imaging combined with advanced software. This new technology creates clear images of the tumour while it is being treated. Those images make it possible to adjust the treatment according to movement of the tumour and direct the radiation beam more precisely.

This will make it possible to increase the range of tumours that can be treated effectively with radiation therapy, including tumours that present limited treatment options today, such as liver or pancreas cancer, with the goal of making it possible to live a long and fruitful life, despite cancer.

Elekta is a Swedish company bringing together science, technology and clinical intelligence to revolutionise cancer care. For almost five decades, Elekta has been a leader in precision radiation medicine.

Good health and well-being
Industry, inovation and infrastructure
Sustainable cities and communities