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Shaw Regional Cancer Center's Newest Addition

Shauna Farnell | Vail Valley Medical Center

Not many ski towns are equipped with a comprehensive medical clinic much less a cancer facility. What's more is that the Shaw Regional Cancer Center is outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment the most recent addition a brand new linear accelerator.

What is a linear accelerator you may ask? No it is not a time travel device or a body-shrinking contraption. It is a machine that administers external beam radiation for cancer treatment and Shaw just acquired the market's newest and most advanced model.

“This machine will allow us to take our therapy into the next 10 years and provide our patients with the best possible options” says Shaw Medical Physicist Merrill Mann.

This is how it works: After a patient receives a CT scan customized simulation and treatment planning of his or her anatomy that information is transferred to the linear accelerator. When it comes time for treatment the patient lies on the treatment table and is circled by the linear accelerator. Using extremely accurate and hi-tech imaging radiation therapists are able to use the accelerator's tools to isolate the precise area of cancerous tissue.

“We decided on this machine because it allows us to treat a wide variety of disease. It will allow us to treat very small cancers as well as large areas of the body if necessary” Mann says. “Our prostate treatments are going to get significantly faster. This machine will reduce the treatment time by about half.”

As with any radiation treatment there is still the possibility of adverse side effects but with the new precision capabilities they should be significantly reduced.

“One of the focuses of Radiation Oncology has been to confine the therapy to what needs to be treated minimizing the radiation effect to surrounding healthy tissue and organs” Mann says. “There's a fine line to reducing damage to those healthy organs and accomplishing the goal of treating the cancer. With the new accelerator's technology we will be able to treat small areas of metastatic disease in regions like the lung liver and brain. Cases like this would previously have been sent to a larger metropolitan health facility.”

Also normal patient motion such as breathing is monitored by a new technology using cameras and infrared light not additional radiation. This allows therapists to adjust treatments to an even greater degree of accuracy.

“The result is better outcomes in terms of reduced side effects to surrounding tissues and potential improved survival” says Peggy Carey Shaw's Vice President of Oncology.

Although the center's previous linear accelerator was a powerful hi-tech machine the new device is not just taking one big step up in advancements but skyrocketing several levels above and beyond.

“It'd be like going from the original iPhone to the iPhone 5S” Mann says. “It's giving us a shift in how we look at things when it comes to patient positioning and treatment. We have a lot more tools to use.”

And the team at Shaw are humbled by the community who fundraised to get this machine which helps keep costs competitive while making such a large investment.

The real beauty of having a machine like this at a facility like Shaw is that even though the machine in all of its space-aged power and precision might seem intimidating the environment at Shaw and overall patient care has an unquestionable level of warmth nurturing and personal attention that no metropolitan hospital or oncology clinic typically provides.

“Although the new accelerator is an advancement in technology for us it is the Shaw Center's team focus on individuals and their needs that has made a great impact on cancer patients and this community” Mann says. “With this machine we are able to grow with future technologies and offer patients state-of-the-art care so that travel isn't necessary to a large facility or city for treatment. Our patients can stay home in their community for treatment where we are able to know – we want to know – them and their families on a more personal level.”

Shaw Regional Cancer Center a service of the nonprofit Vail Valley Medical Center provides high-quality compassionate cancer care. The cancer specialists utilize the most advanced technology along with the healing powers of nature compassion fitness and nutrition to treat a variety of cancers including breast cancer prostate cancer and lung cancer. Shaw is also home to Jack's Place a cancer caring lodge for patients with a pay-what-you-can philosophy.