Date: 3/14/2005

St. Catherine Hospital Offers Revolutionary CyberKnife, first in Chicagoland

Physicians of the Community Healthcare System will be among the first in this country and throughout the world to use a pioneering technology to seek out and destroy cancerous tumors that previously could not be removed surgically or otherwise treated effectively.

The newest weapon in the war on cancer is known as CyberKnife and it uses technology developed to guide cruise missiles to their target. With these unique precision guidance capabilities, physicians can safely deliver high doses of radiation to cancerous tumors without damaging healthy tissue and organs.

The CyberKnife Center is a cooperative effort between area physicians and the Indiana hospitals of the Community Healthcare System: Community Hospital in Munster; St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago; and St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart. The CyberKnife Center, located at St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago, will be the 26th site in the country using this technology - the first in Indiana and the exclusive provider in the entire Chicagoland region. Installation of this new technology began today at St. Catherine Hospital. The first patient will be treated in early May.

“It is through an extraordinary joint effort between our hospitals and physicians that we are able to bring to our community a promising new cancer therapy that will save lives and dramatically reduce the length, cost and risk of treatment,” said Donald S. Powers, president of Community Healthcare System. “It is a real credit to our community, our patients and our medical professionals that we’re the first hospital in the entire Chicagoland area to offer this promising new treatment.”

The addition of the CyberKnife to the Community Healthcare System will put our hospitals on the forefront of stereotactic radiosurgery, offering patients a superior treatment alternative, said Andrej Zajac, M.D., Medical Director for the CyberKnife Center and Medical Director of Radiation Oncology at Community Hospital.

CyberKnife will be used initially to treat certain cancers of the brain, spine, pancreas, liver and lung, as well as other malformations and benign tumors. As the technology evolves and proves to offer other advantages over existing treatment, its use is likely to expand, Zajac said.

“As a system, we are very proud to be among the first in the country to offer these advances in cancer treatment to our patients,” said Jo Ann Birdzell, administrator of St. Catherine Hospital. “This investment builds on the strength of the oncology program of the Community Healthcare System and is representative of the commitment we’re making to give our patients the best cancer care possible.”

Stereotactic radiosurgery is a non-surgical treatment that uses focused beams of radiation on small and previously inaccessible tumors or lesions deep within the body. During the CyberKnife procedure, more than 100 beams of radiation enter the body from different angles. By itself, each small beam of radiation does not harm the healthy tissue or organs it passes through. It is when each of these beams intersects at the target that a high enough dose is delivered to destroy the tumor.

Not only does the CyberKnife reach tumors that are unreachable with other stereotactic systems, patients do not have to have invasive restraints fixed to their skulls or bodies during treatment as is required with other systems such as the Gamma Knife. CyberKnife’s advanced image-guided stereotactic robotic system delivers radiation so precisely that it can stay on target even if a patient moves during treatment.

“What is particularly exciting and unique about this technology is its accuracy — it can actually track a person’s respiration, moving up and down with each breath the patient takes,” Zajac said. “This precision allows us to go where a surgeon would not even venture and where other radiosurgery and conventional radiation systems would not be able to deliver a useful dose without risk to healthy tissue and organs. With the CyberKnife, we can deliver a dose that is effective and offer real hope to patients who previously had few, if any, treatment options. ”

With its attached linear accelerator, CyberKnife’s robotic arm delivers radiation to a specific target, guided by a computerized 3-D map created through the use of CT or MRI scans. In stereotactic radiosurgery systems like the Gamma Knife, the patients’ skulls are fixed with metal frames that provide the reference points for the machine. Patients are required to wear this uncomfortable frame throughout the Gamma Knife treatment that may span multiple sessions. CyberKnife is the only radiosurgery system able to use the body’s skeletal structure as a reference point. For tumors in the spine and within the body without good skeletal reference, special implanted markers are used as reference points and placed near the tumor prior to treatment with the CyberKnife. Placement of these tiny markers is done as a minor outpatient procedure using local anesthetic.

The actual CyberKnife treatment generally lasts from about one to two hours — patients go home the same day without anesthesia and with an immediate return to normal activity. The entire treatment, which includes a planning session or two, can be completed as an outpatient in two to five visits. Because of its accuracy, CyberKnife can be used to treat multiple tumors in different locations in a single session. Large tumors close to critical structures can be treated in multiple sessions to reduce the risk of seizures and other complications.

Developed and manufactured by Accuray, the CyberKnife’s unique precision technology was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2003 for use on tumors anywhere in the body where radiation is indicated. Stereotactic radiosurgery has been in use for more than 30 years to treat benign and malignant tumors, vascular malformations and other disorders. More than 10,000 patients have been treated worldwide with CyberKnife.

“As one of the first sites to use CyberKnife, our physicians will be collaborating with other researchers and scientists around the world to further advance this technology,” Zajac says. “We will be adding to the body of knowledge about how to effectively treat cancer as we move into a future where cancer will become more of a chronic disease than the instant killer it once was.”

With the addition of the CyberKnife, the Community Healthcare System offers the most comprehensive and advanced radiation therapy treatment options within the Chicagoland and Indiana. Traditional radiation therapy, which also features the advances of Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) to focus higher radiation doses at the tumor, is available through Community Hospital in Munster and at the Center for Imaging and Radiation Therapy of St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart.

For more information on CyberKnife and the radiation oncology services of Community Healthcare System, please call locally 219-392-7319 or toll-free 1-877-32CYBER, or at Community Hospital, 219-836-6390 and at St. Mary Medical Center, 219-942-5745.