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NEGA Health System rolls out new cancer treatment
Dr. Malay Rao demonstrates a new device used by the Northeast Georgia Health Systems for brain cancer patients. Adhesive patches are applied to the scalp and operated by a battery pack that can be carried in a pouch. The device is worn at least 18 hours a day and delivers localized electrical therapy through the adhesive patches. - photo by Scott Rogers FCN regional staff

South Hall resident Josephine “Jo” Lorigo’s ordeal began earlier this year when a mammogram showed “some unusual changes.”

She went to a surgeon, who referred her for a biopsy that showed “some precancer cells that were very aggressive.”

Her surgeon performed a lumpectomy in her left breast, then a second one. Then, Lorigo underwent 16 treatments.

“I’m still recuperating, but doing well,” said Lorigo, 77. “I’m very thankful for the treatment I received.”

She particularly benefited by a new piece of equipment, a “positioning board” that allows for even more precise targeting of tumors, as part of radiation therapy in the Gainesville-based Northeast Georgia Health System.

“Previous equipment only allowed movement in three planes — back-and-forth, side-to-side and up-and-down,” said Dr. Craig Baden, a radiation oncologist with Northeast Georgia Physicians Group.

“With the new couch, we can not only rotate the linear accelerator, but also the patients, so they can rest comfortably as we maneuver them into positions which give us better access to the tumors while minimizing the impact to surrounding healthy tissues.”

Oncologists also can provide advanced tumor targeting through four-dimensional computerized tomography, or CT images. Until recently, the cancer team relied on three-dimensional images of tumors for treatment planning. The fourth dimension is the location of a tumor at a particular time.

“Tumors are a moving target, especially for cancers in the breast or chest cavity,” Dr. Malay Rao, a radiation oncologist with NGPG.  “Even when patients are doing their best to remain still, the tumor will move as they breathe in and out.

“Using 4-D CT scans allows us to design more accurate treatments and protect surrounding areas.”

In addition to these technologies, Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton also recently added high-dose rate brachytherapy, a type of radiation therapy that involves radiation directly at or very close to a tumor site, helping to limit the amount of healthy tissue exposed.

The high-dose rate refers to the use of higher doses of radiation over a shorter time frame.

Patients with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, now have a new treatment option known as Optune Therapy, which uses ongoing mild electrical currents to interrupt the cancer’s ability to reproduce.

The device delivers localized electrical therapy through adhesive patches applied to their shaved scalp, usually prescribed to the patient following surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, Rao said.

The patient wears the device for 18 hours daily for nine months or so, possibly longer.

“Studies show it’s pretty solid in showing improved survival by several months,” Rao said. “That’s the latest advancement we’ve made in a decade in seeing some solid survival benefit.”

Also, “Optune is noninvasive, doesn’t involve drugs and has very limited side effects,” Baden said.

Patients fighting prostate cancer also have access to two new treatment technologies, including an injectable hydrogel that can help reduce risk of rectal injury during radiation therapy.

The hydrogel works by creating space between the prostate and rectum, resulting in a significantly lower radiation dose, decreasing the chances of inflammation and other complications.

The other treatment involves the ultrasound-guided placement of fiducial markers, or reference points, which are used before each session to accurately pinpoint where the radiation treatment should be delivered to the prostate.

Both new prostate treatments can be done in a brief outpatient visit.

CareChex, an independent health care ratings organization, has ranked NGMC among the elite hospitals for cancer care based on several measures, including quality of medical care, treatment outcomes and patient satisfaction.

“We’re extremely proud of this national recognition,” said Jayme Carrico, executive director of Oncology Services at NGMC. “It’s truly a reflection of our organization’s commitment to providing our patients with the highest quality cancer care and treatment options ... at their back door.”

Access to advanced treatment technologies, while not measured by CareChex, is also a large component of quality care, Carrico said.

For Lorigo, recovery from her cancer scare is the main thing. And that involves taking an estrogen-reducing tablet.