The Radiotherapy and Radiosurgery department of Humanitas celebrates 15 years, years in which more than 25,000 patients have been treated. On this occasion, Professor Marta Scorsetti, Head of the Radiotherapy and Radiosurgery Operating Unit and Carmela Galdieri, radiotherapy technician, answered some questions on the subject during a live Facebook session. Below are some of the questions that emerged during the social ‘debate’.
What is radiotherapy?
“Radiotherapy is a discipline based on the use of ionizing radiation and is now one of the most important ways to treat cancer. It is not invasive, does not require anesthesia and is performed quickly, so it is also suitable for patients who are not operable or who can not perform chemotherapy,” explained Dr. Scorsetti.
What is the purpose?
“Radiotherapy has different purposes: ionizing versions are used to treat the tumor, to heal the tumor definitively; in cases of advanced disease radiotherapy can be used together with chemotherapy, to reduce the tumor volume and allow subsequent surgery. Other times it can have a palliative purpose, to reduce symptoms and pain, through the control of metastases thus avoiding the growth of the tumor.
How have radiotherapy techniques evolved over the years?
“In the last ten years, important steps forward have been taken: we have introduced intensity-modulated radiotherapy, through which we can modulate the beam of radiation and thus give a precise shape to the radiation that goes almost to ‘paint’ the shape of the tumor. This allows us to save healthy tissues, to give less toxicity to the body and to get a higher dose directly to the tumor.
Among the techniques of radiotherapy also radiosurgery and stereotactic body radiotherapy, also known as SBRT (Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy): “is a non-invasive radiotherapy technique that consists of delivering a high dose of direct radiation on a small volume, the tumor, in a single session. The beam causes necrosis, while saving the surrounding healthy tissues.
It is a very important technique because it is not invasive, does not require hospitalization or hospitalization of the patient, it is done in about ten minutes and is an excellent alternative to surgery.
What is the role of the technician?
“The technician works in synergy with the radiotherapist,” explained Galdieri. “We welcome the patient and accompany him up to the actual treatment, explaining to them what are the therapies and techniques used because it is good that patients are also aware of the technologies that are used.
The technician “establishes an important bond with the patient. Often we are also far from the family and affections during the therapy, so relating to someone who listens and communicates helps the patient to deal with the treatment. There are many relatives and patients who thank us every day and write to us.
How important is the psychological approach?
“A diagnosis of cancer frightens patients, which is why it is important to talk to them, understand and listen to them, encourage them to always look forward and to the good things,” explained Professor Scorsetti, because “there is always a reason or an objective for which it is worth living. We must also accompany them on a journey that is useful to accept the disease and its rhythms as well as the rhythms of care.
For this reason, the radiotherapist recalled, Humanitas carries out help and listening projects dedicated to patients, such as make up courses in collaboration with the association La Forza del Sorriso Onlus, which allows women to look back at themselves in the mirror with pleasure, in difficult moments of illness, the loss of hair or eyebrows, or even as the listening of music in piped music in the five bunkers in which the therapies of Humanitas are carried out, which “give a particular and intimate touch that brings beauty closer and overcomes the impact with the closed spaces of the department”.
Research: what to expect from the future
“In Humanitas we have several prospective and randomized studies that compare different radiotherapy techniques, more and more precise, that investigate the use of radiotherapy treatment in a single session, for example on prostate cancer,” explained Scorsetti.
Other studies that help us, for example, to better select the patient to understand who really can benefit from radiotherapy or stereotactic radiotherapy. We are also trying to develop predictive models that tell us how the patient could respond to treatment. The studies and research are different: in a few years I think we can have very important answers, for example in the field of radiomics studies or the application of Artificial Intelligence, which will help in procedures, interpretation of images and diagnoses, associating images to clinical data.