Possibilities of Radiotherapy and its Current Limits | Tomorrow Today - The Science Magazine | DW | 09.09.2013
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Tomorrow Today

Possibilities of Radiotherapy and its Current Limits

We're joined by the Charité Clinic's Dr. Volker Budach, who tells us more about the possibilities of radiotherapy and its current limits.

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"Joining me in the studio today is Dr. Volker Budach. He heads the Department of Radiation Oncology at Charité Hospital here in Berlin. Welcome to Tomorrow Today. Now heavy ion therapy worked for this patient. But how optimistic are you about this treatment for tumors?"

Volker Budach:
"Protons and heavy ions have physical properties which put them into a favored role for the treatment of cancer patients in the future. Especially because they can be stopped right after a tumor, and within several millimeters be turned down from 100% to 0%. So the burden of radiation to normal tissue can be considerably spared."

"What about side effects?"

"Side effects should be about in the range as with conventional radiation, except for secondary tumors. Where we expect more secondary tumors in conventional radiation therapy than for this kind of radiation."

"What kinds of cancers are best treated with ion beams?

"Mainly they should be for tumors in children, because of the secondary neoplasms, as I already mentioned. And then of course tumors which are in the direct vicinity of very radiosensitive structures such as the optic nerve or the small bowel or spinal cord."

"What has been your personal experience with particle beam therapies?"

"Particle beam therapies have been done in my career when I was still at university. There we had a neutron facility for neutron radiation, which is a heavy particle. And of course, that machine was not as well focused as it is today."

"This treatment is not for everyone. It's not available everywhere in the world, and it's very costly. That machine costs up to 200 million euros. Would you say then that it's a realistic method for cancer patients?

"Yes. It might be in the future when we will have compact machines, which are much smaller. They don't have treatment rooms like with these huge machines -- facilities of four or five -- but only one. This can be built up in every large clinic or university unit. It could then treat about 400-500 patients a year."

"How does ion beam therapy compare with other forms of radiation?"

"It should principally have some advantages, but there are no proofs until now that it really works better than photons or the normal conventional radiotherapy. Therefore in the future we'll do lots of clinical trials to be able to in the end rule out what is best or not."

"Speaking of the future, what is the future of cancer treatments then?"

"I think it's a local treatment optimization of a local treatment, of local tumours. When they are disseminated, you need of course systemic treatments."

"OK Dr. Budach, it's been very interesting having this discussion with you today. Thanks for being with us."