September 26, 2013

by Nancy Ryerson , Staff Writer
At ASTRO 2013, equipment wasn’t so much the star of the show, like it may have been in past years. Instead, companies focused on smoothing out operations with software updates and finding ways to bring cutting-edge equipment to the little guy.As for radiation oncologists and researchers, they brought attention to the patient side, especially on how radiation oncologists can do a better job of looking beyond survival and toward better quality of life.

Overall, the show celebrated all the advances it’s made in the last 55 years while looking toward a future that more patients and physicians can participate in. With that in mind, these are the five themes we found. (But please let us know in the comments section what the standouts were for you).

1. Imaging for treatment planning steps up its game

Radiation therapy is about more than the therapy itself. Imaging companies, like Siemens and Philips, showed their CT and MRI pieces decked out in radiation therapy accessories to assist in treatment planning.

Philips is even working on an MRI-linac fusion with Elekta. While no date has been set for its release, the project is a top priority for the company, said Falko Busse, general manager for MR therapy at Philips.

GE Healthcare has also focused its attention on MRI for radiation therapy planning. “Now, 85 percent of centers are using MRI for treatment planning,” said Paul Anderson. “And for a quarter of those sites, it’s their primary imaging choice.”

2. Not just technology for technology’s sake

As radiation therapy has matured, some manufacturers have slowed down constant technology updates, instead honing details like workflow.

“This year, we heard from customers that they wanted us to slow down and focus on what’s important, like patient care, efficiency, effectiveness and versatility,” said Kelly Londy, chief commercial officer at Accuray. “It’s not just technology for the sake of technology.”

In addition to a software update, the company also introduced updates to its service contract, another way of pleasing current customers and providing a smoother experience.

3. The right treatment for the right disease (including new approaches to skin cancer)

New Choosing Wisely guidelines for radiation therapy showed that every technology isn’t ideal for every disease. The society said, for example, that proton therapy should only be used to treat prostate cancer within a clinical trial setting, and clarified a common confusion between two types of therapy commonly used in treating breast cancer.

Radiation therapy is also entering new disease spaces, such as skin cancer, where it can now be used to remove lesions without leaving a scar.4. Consistency counts 
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Even when all of a facility’s linacs or CT scanners are created equal, variance can still slip in. That’s where new software for treatment planning can be a big help.

“If you listen to radiation oncologists, they’ll tell you that not all draw contours the same way, and some are better with different parts of the body,” said Hugh Bettesworth, CEO of Mirada Medical. Mirada announced a new software package at ASTRO that can be used to auto-contour a CT image used in radiation therapy planning.

Manufacturers are also working to help smaller facilities better employ the technology that’s already been mastered by the country’s largest and most advanced hospitals.

Varian showed a new piece of software called Rapid Plan that’s currently 501(k) pending. It creates a treatment plan design that oncologists can then edit to fit their needs.

“You work with default models based on clinical evaluators from places like Duke and Washington University,” said Paul Yokoyama, user experience designer and analyst at Varian.

Users can then submit their work to potentially be part of the software’s “knowledge database” in the future.

For customers with discontinued Siemens linear accelerators, the company announced a collaboration with Varian that will help customers transition to new technology only when they’re ready.

“Now, they won’t have to learn a whole new system from scratch,” said Meryl Ginsberg, public relations manager at Varian.

5. Looking beyond patient survival

As ASTRO president Colleen Lawton told DOTmed News back in September, quality of life, rather than just cancer survival, will be a significant focus of the show. Studies looked at how patients can retain memory after receiving radiation to the brain, and how cancer patients with depression can get help for the emotional problems no amount of radiation can fix.


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