New Cancer Treatments Reduce Radiation Risks

Two local health centers are bringing state-of-the-art solutions to very specific problems

Once small breast cancer tumors have been detected in a screening, they aren’t easy to find in order to remove them, but new technology, locally only available at The Polyclinic, more precisely targets those tumors. Called radioactive seed localization, the method involves implanting the tumor with a rice-grain-size “seed” that emits a very low amount of radiation. Surgeons then trace the seed by the radiation, locating the tumor for removal. It’s a less invasive, more accurate alternative to the usual technique of implanting a wire as a guide.

The technology was developed by the Mayo Clinic and the Moffitt Cancer Center a decade ago, but is just now seeing practical use, with The Polyclinic being one of the first medical centers in the state to offer this option, and others are expected to follow.

Sometimes you need a treatment for the cure. For diseases such as prostate cancer, radiation can damage neighboring organs. SpaceOAR (“spacing organs at risk”) is a water-based biocompatible gel that protects the rectum from radiation and its side effects, such as diarrhea, irritable bowels and incontinence. The treatment was cleared by the FDA this year, and patients in the Pacific Northwest are among the first to reap its benefits, thanks to Peninsula Cancer Center in Poulsbo, one of just six places in the country where the treatment is available.

Photo courtesy of Augmenix Inc.

The liquid is injected between the prostate and the rectum, where it turns into a gel and creates a buffer. Clinical trials showed that the treatment, developed by Massachusetts-based Augmenix, Inc., cut down toxicity in test patients by 75 percent. Peninsula Cancer Center cofounder Dr. R. Alex Hsi was the only radiologist in Washington selected for SpaceOAR’s clinical trials, and he administered the first post-trial treatment to a Bainbridge Island resident. “If people want to come and get [the gel], I’ll place it, and they can go back to wherever they live for treatment. I think it’s that significant,” says Hsi.