Imaging in radiation therapy – where are we heading?

Feb 02, 2018

World Cancer Day takes place every year on 4th February, encouraging people around the world to unite in the fight against the global cancer epidemic. According to Cancer Research UK, 42 per cent of cancer cases in this country are preventable. The highest proportion of cases diagnosed at an early stage, for all cancers combined, is via screening and 27 per cent of patients have radiotherapy as part of their primary cancer treatment.

The field of oncology is one that has been constantly growing since the early 1900s and its evolution is not slowing down. Even in the last few years we have seen significant developments take place, particularly in radiation oncology, where imaging plays an increasingly important role in advancing modern therapy practices. With the help of the latest technology, we are moving closer than ever before to a future of individualized therapies.

Many of the key challenges have already been addressed to a very good standard, such as providing highly reliable and easy to use solutions, minimising patient transport, managing moving tumours efficiently and reducing metal artifact in areas where practitioners would otherwise have to guess, for example near dental fillings or prosthetic hips.

New CT and MRI scanners deliver high quality patient care, improve workflow efficiency and help keep overheads under control in today’s demanding environment. Healthcare providers are facing pressures to maximise the financial performance of their medical equipment and still advance the quality of care, keeping the patient at the heart of the process.

While the industry continues to improve diagnostic image quality and works to provide very accurate 3D tumour localisation and the best soft tissue contrast, there is also a significant market development towards adopting advanced treatment techniques and, simultaneously, towards more standardised and personalised care. The former because it increases efficiency, the latter because it improves outcomes and patient satisfaction.

To many practitioners, however, achieving standardisation and personalisation can seem mutually exclusive. For CT in radiation therapy, this hinges on fulfilling the needs of two different end users: radiation oncologists, who aim for precise contouring, and dosimetrists, who must devise accurate patient treatment plans.

At the 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO), Siemens Healthineers introduced new CT technology that unlocks a wider range of tube voltages while supporting better image quality and yielding equivalent tissue characterization compared to standard practice. These images can be used for dose calculation, helping to simplify the current practice when adapting kV settings to individual patients or cancer types would be cut out to avoid time-consuming treatment preparation.

The new SOMATOM Confidence RT Pro dedicated CT system has been available on the UK market since mid-2017.The release was welcomed by a number of radiology departments striving for advanced treatment techniques and patient care that is both standardised and personalised. Patients across South East, London, North West of England and Scotland will benefit from efficient high-quality care delivered with the help of the new systems, two of which have already been installed.

Without compromising on individualisation, radiation therapy specialists can look closer at the facts, aim for higher patient satisfaction and optimal precision along the entire RT chain. Given the importance of radiotherapy as a primary treatment for cancer patients, the time to implement modern options is now. It is good to see the growing interest in new technology that improves precision and reduces potential sources of errors.