Dr. Benjamin Movsas in front of the ViewRay machine.
Dr. Benjamin Movsas in front of the ViewRay machine.

Future of Radiation Oncology

Henry Ford oncologist touts world’s first MRI-guided radiation system.

For the past six months, I’ve experienced how this first-in-the-world ViewRay MRIdian Linac machine is changing the ways we treat cancers and I’m convinced this technology is the future of radiation oncology,” says Dr. Benjamin Movsas, chair of radiation oncology at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute. 

“With this new system, it’s now possible to see the treatment area and deliver radiation at the same time so that we can accurately align the tumor to the treatment beams and make adjustments in real time to avoid sensitive internal structures. “

According to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., more than half of all people with cancer receive radiation therapy as part of their treatment for just about every type of cancer. Traditionally, radiation therapy refers to external beam radiation therapy conducted using a linear accelerator, a machine that directs high-energy beams aimed at a precise point on the patient’s body.

The Henry Ford Cancer Institute is the first medical institution in the world to offer patients an advanced radiation therapy using an FDA-approved real-time magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to deliver more precise radiation treatment using a linear accelerator.

The MRIdian radiation therapy system is made by ViewRay Inc. in Oakwood, Ohio, outside of Cleveland. The machine costs $10 million. Henry Ford was able to install and test the machine within two or three weeks because they worked very closely with the ViewRay team, says ViewRay spokesman Michael Saracen, who added that last year a few other machines were installed and should be treating patients within four to six weeks. The machine requires a special room modified to house the system.

“Radiation therapy damages the cancer cells by destroying the genetic material that controls how they grow and divide,” Movsas explains. “The problem is that sometimes healthy cells may also be damaged by radiation therapy although the goal, of course, is to destroy as few normal cells as possible. The good news is that most side effects are temporary and generally disappear once treatment has ended. Patients typically undergo periodic scans after treatment to determine how their cancer has responded.

“Previously, we could limit the movement of the patients using immobilization devices, but it was very challenging to control for the internal movement of the tumor or neighboring healthy organs,” says Movsas. “During a radiation treatment, for example, it’s natural for a tumor or one of the body’s organs to move and change shape as the heart beats, the lungs move, blood vessels pulsate or gas bubbles move around in the abdomen,” he says.

Dr. Movsas watches on the screen in real time where the radiation will be targeted.

“That’s what makes the ViewRay technology different because the MRI images show organs and structures inside the body in real time, allowing the radiation team to adjust the position and dose of radiation given during treatment to avoid damaging normal internal structures. Moreover, the machine automatically pauses and then restarts itself immediately when the target is back in the correct position.

“While the system will be used to treat all types of cancers,” Movsas says, “it is especially beneficial for tumors where there is usually movement during treatment, such as those in the liver, pancreas, adrenal and lung areas. The software can detect whether the target is in the correct position and automatically pause if it’s not and then reset itself. This advanced radiation system also delivers a new level of care to include breast, prostate, kidney and gynecological cancers, among others.”

Pleased Patient

Bruce Hough of Metamora had his prostate removed in 2009 at the Mayo Clinic. Unfortunately, this summer he was numbered among the 15 percent of men who have their prostate cancer return. He returned to the Mayo Clinic for consultation and decided to have his radiation treatments closer to home, selecting the Henry Ford Health System.

“Dr. Movsas reviewed all my options for treatment, including the new ViewRay machine at Henry Ford Cottage Hospital in Grosse Pointe Farms,” Hough says. “My eight weeks of treatment (with the ViewRay) began in September and ended November 2017. I didn’t get fatigued until the last two weeks of treatment. Although the almost four-hour drive five days a week was tiresome, it was well worth the time.

“Dr. Movsas is a very approachable and caring person who will spend as much time with you as you need,” Haugh says. “His team of doctors, nurses and technicians is outstanding. I was thrilled my wife and I were asked to join this team onstage at the Gem Theater when Dr. Movsas and Henry Ford Health System were awarded recognition for the extraordinary ViewRay machine by Hour Detroit magazine.”

“For radiation oncologists, this exciting technology lets us finally take off the blindfold and allows us to see during treatment itself what we couldn’t previously visualize,” Movsas says. “For patients with cancer, this is a major leap forward as more accurate radiation may result in fewer side effects, fewer treatments, better quality of life and improved outcomes. It is so gratifying to be able to confidently tell each of our patients that the tumor was in the radiation beam 100 percent of the time.”

Movsas and his wife, Dr. Tammy Movsas, live in Southfield and are members of Shomrey Emunah in Southfield, where he serves as an officer. They have lived in the Detroit area for 13 years with their four daughters, one of whom is an audiologist; another attends medical school in Israel and two attend the University of Maryland. Tammy Movsas is director of the Public Health Department in Midland.

Ruthan Brodsky Contributing Writer

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