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Veterans Health Administration

National Cancer Prevention Month

Hospital room with large medical machine

The CyberKnife can treat tumors anywhere in the body with radiosurgery.

The Veterans Health Administration leads the way in the treatment of cancer

On the forefront of innovative treatments and technologies, the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center now provides Veterans a targeted, painless alternative to open surgery and a medical option for certain inoperable tumors.

The CyberKnife, an impressive-looking machine resembling a giant robot with a multi-jointed arm that pivots, twists, and turns, can treat tumors anywhere in the body with radiosurgery.

Poised above the patient who is fully clothed and awake on a table, the device’s giant arm whirs above, beside, then under the tumor site, delivering hundreds of beams of radiation to the tumor with pinpoint accuracy.

“The flexible arm allows for precisely targeted radiation delivery and can reach areas of the body that are untreatable with other, more limited radiation-delivery systems,” said Dr. Angela Zhu, acting Radiotherapy Section chief.

At the beginning of the procedure, images from the patient’s previous computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or positron emission tomography (PET) scan are loaded into the machine, allowing physicians to identify the exact size, shape, and location of the tumor to target, as well as surrounding areas to avoid.

“It is so precise that radiation can be sculpted to tumors near critical structures like hearing or vision nerves,” said Zhu. “Though ‘knife’ is part of its name, the machine does not actually cut anything. The body absorbs the tumor, much like a bruise eventually disappears.”

Depending on the complexity of the case, only one to five treatments lasting 30 to 90 minutes are needed, given one to two days apart. No anesthesia is required because the procedure is incision-less and pain-free. When the session’s done, patients return to normal activity immediately.

“This cutting-edge machine is an excellent alternative to surgery and can be used on tumors anywhere in the body including the brain, lung, liver, prostate, spine, pancreas — anywhere,” said Dr. Meena Vij, Diagnostic and Therapeutic Care Line executive. “This device has shown remarkable results and will provide a life-saving alternative for our Veterans.”

Male patient in a consultation with a woman doctor

February is National Cancer Prevention Month.

According to Dr. Teresa Hayes, Associate Professor and Chief of the Hematology-Oncology Section at the DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, “One out of three 3 Americans will develop cancer during their lifetime. Last year, more than 500,000 people died from cancer in the United States. We believe that one third of these cancer deaths could be prevented by the proper lifestyle changes and by following cancer screening recommendations.”

Screening helps find cancer at an early, often highly treatable stage.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends these screenings:

  • Research shows that screening for cervical and colorectal cancers helps prevent these diseases by finding precancerous lesions so they can be treated before they become cancerous.
  • Screening for cervical, colorectal, and breast cancers also helps find these diseases at an early, often highly treatable stage.

Vaccines also help reduce cancer risk. The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine helps prevent most cervical cancers and some vaginal and vulvar cancers. The hepatitis B vaccine can help reduce liver cancer risk.

A person’s cancer risk can be reduced in other ways by:

  • Receiving regular medical care
  • Avoiding tobacco
  • Limiting alcohol use
  • Avoiding excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun and tanning beds
  • Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables
  • Maintaining a healthy weight, and
  • Being physically active.