$2M upgrade at Springfield cancer center cuts length of treatments

By Kate Patrick - Staff Writer

A $2 million technology upgrade at the Springfield Regional Cancer Center means some lung cancer and prostate cancer patients may be treated in less than half the time previously required to treat their conditions.

That was good news to Larry Pummel of Springfield, the first patient to receive stereotactical body radiation therapy at the cancer center this fall. When he was diagnosed with lung cancer a year ago, he wasn’t surprised.
Pummel, 75, described himself as a lifelong smoker and has been on oxygen 24 hours a day since 2014. But when it came time to decide what kind of cancer treatment he needed, surgery wasn’t an option. “I was at a point where they couldn’t operate on me because my heart wouldn’t hold out,” he said.

Dr. Bryan Barriger, a radiation oncologist at the Springfield Regional Cancer Center, told Pummel he should consider stereotactical body radiation therapy as an alternative. “I had some misgivings of course, but I was at a point where I didn’t have a whole lot of choices,” Pummel said.

Pummel had been commuting to Hamilton for a few treatments in May. He received only six treatments at the Springfield center starting in September, and next week he’s returning to undergo some scans and blood tests to make sure the cancer is gone.
“It wasn’t scary, it was quite interesting,” Pummel said. “And I had absolutely no pain or after-effects of any kind. I would recommend it to anyone — it doesn’t take months to finish, you go in five or six times.”

The center uses an Elektra Versa machine that revolves around a patient on a table and targets beams of radiation at small malignant tumors inside the body. Since the machine’s installation, the cancer center has conducted 18 treatments and treated a total of eight patients. “People used to have to leave town for this kind of treatment,” said Dr. Sandra Victor, who specializes in radiation oncology at the center. “It’s wonderful to be able to offer this to patients now in our community.”
The Elektra Versa machine administers SBRT, which Victor described as a high energy beam that you can’t feel or see. Although radiation therapy has been available for cancer patients for more than 100 years, SBRT is much more meticulous.
In the past, lung cancer patients came to the center five days a week for more than six or seven weeks to receive radiation therapy. SBRT requires therapy for two and a half weeks.

While prostate cancer patients previously received radiation therapy five days a week for eight and a half weeks, now they only need five doses. Victor explained that doctors now restrict the movement of a lung cancer patient’s respiratory system through abdominal compression, which prevents the tumors inside the lung from shifting during treatment.

A 4D simulator scans the respiratory system regularly during the treatment to check the exact location of tumors in the lungs. This allows the Elektra Versa machine to adjust and hone in on the tumors without damaging healthy tissue.
“Then, we are able to give a higher dose for each patient,” Victor said.
Patients are treated faster, which means more patients will be treated every year. The total time from diagnosis to completed treatment could be as little as two months. Pummel’s insurance provider covered almost all the costs for his treatment. “Insurance companies do cover the treatment,” said Teresa Hawke, the cancer center’s business office supervisor for radiation oncology. “It’s because they’re getting real results.”

Lung cancer was the leading cause of cancer-related death in Clark County and the state of Ohio in 2013, according to data compiled by the Ohio Department of Health. Lung cancer also has the highest incidence rate among diagnosed cancers in Ohio, at 15.2 percent in 2013.

Bryan Bucklew, CEO of the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association, said that even though overall cancer rates are declining, cancer rates are increasing among the older population. That means more and more local hospitals are upgrading their cancer-treatment services so that aging patients don’t have to travel to other cities or out of state for care.
“There is a lot of investment going on in cancer treatment and radiation oncology,” Bucklew said. “There’s a great desire for the Dayton area hospitals to provide quality care close to patients’ support systems.”

Pummel’s wife, Carol Pummel, has been undergoing chemotherapy at the Springfield cancer center since 2015, so the couple doesn’t have to drive too far to be treated. Larry Pummel said since his own treatment, he’s feeling all right, but he won’t be out of the woods until he’s checked next week to make sure the cancer is gone. “I’m aware that I’m 75 years old, but I feel OK,” Pummel said. “I’ll probably be on oxygen as long as I’m above ground, I would assume, but I feel extremely lucky that I’m still around.”