Breakthrough technology tracks, treats tumors in real time

Cancer expert calls it 'a game changer'

GROSSE POINTE FARMS, Mich. – It was a diagnosis that Debbie Porreca never expected.

"In 2009, I was not feeling well. I was having some very vague symptoms, ended up in the ER, and they incidentally found a very small lung mass," Porreca said.

Porreca was a non-smoker, but at age 41, the Trenton mother of four boys was diagnosed with lung cancer.

She had surgery to remove part of her lung.

"For seven and half years, I was living cancer-free. Then in May of this year, I found a lump," Porreca said.

The cancer was back, and this time, Porreca needed radiation. But her doctor suggested something new -- a therapy using MRI-guided radiation.

"The ViewRay MRIdian Linac is a brand new way of approaching radiation," said Dr. Ben Movsas, the chair of radiation oncology at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute.

The ViewRay uses MRI to track a tumor during treatment in real time.

"It essentially takes off the blindfold for the radiation oncologist and allows us to see in real time not only where the target is, but also the surrounding normal structures," Movsas said.

As different parts of the body move when a patient breathes, for example, the ViewRay shows that and doctors can make immediate changes.

"It allows us to make sure that we give the radiation dose precisely to the target and to avoid the other normal structures," Movsas said.

How much can that matter? While a local patient was being treated for prostate cancer, doctors watched in amazement as a gas bubble passed through the patient's system, pushing the prostate partially out of the treatment area. At that moment, the ViewRay automatically paused the radiation and then restarted as the prostate moved back into the target area.

"This is a game changer. This lets us do things we could never do before," Movsas said. "It is truly eye-opening to see everything that is going on as the patient is being treated."

For patients, more precise radiation could mean fewer side effects and shorter or fewer treatments.

"I have been in this field now for a quarter of a century, and I have been waiting for a unit like this for a quarter of a century," Movsas said.

Henry Ford is excited to be the first in the world to have an FDA-approved system like this.

The technology can be used to treat cancer anywhere in the body, but it's especially beneficial for tumors in the liver, pancreas, adrenal and lung areas -- spots that tend to have more movement. It might also improve care for breast, prostate, kidney and gynecological cancers.

The main limitation is that a patient can't have any sort of implant that wouldn't be safe in an MRI.

"I believe this technology is the future of radiation oncology," Movsas said. "That is why we are so proud to be the first in the world here at Henry Ford to offer this to our patients."

For Porreca, it was a no-brainer. She was one of the first patients treated at Henry Ford Cottage.

"When the option was brought up, it was not a question in my mind that it was something that I wanted to do," Porreca said.

The only side effect that Porreca has experienced is a little fatigue. She still faces chemotherapy, but is grateful that the ViewRay was an option for her.

"They can see what they're treating, where they're treating it, and they give the radiation exactly to the area that it needs to go. So it's pretty awesome," Porreca said.

To learn more about the ViewRay, click here.