Implant takes sting out of radiation for cancer patients

The first wireless, implantable sensor approved for use in the treatment of breast and prostate cancer is taking the guesswork — and some of the sting — out of radiation treatments.

In February, the Coliseum Medical Centers began offering the Dose Verification System, or DVS. The sensors are 2.1 millimeters in diameter and 20 millimeters long, and once implanted can gather and transmit data on the precise amount of radiation being delivered to patients.

“Our work to some extent is blind. This device is at the tumor site, reporting the actual dose received,” said Dr. Sean Cavanaugh, a Coliseum-affiliated radiation oncologist at the Georgia Center for Total Cancer Care of Macon. “For the fundamentals of cancer treatment, it makes sense. Wouldn’t you want to know the actual dose?”

Coliseum is the first medical provider in Middle Georgia to offer the device, according to the sensor’s manufacturer, Sicel Technologies.

By monitoring radiation doses, the sensors are thought to prevent skin burns and protect healthy tissue.

Jean Miller, 65, of Warner Robins had the sensor implanted in March and is about halfway through her course of daily radiation treatments.

Because of the device, she said, doctors were able to reduce the number of treatments from 33 to 30.

“So far it seems that it is working quite well,” Miller said. “I don’t have any real dramatic changes in the skin tissue, no blistering, which is one of the things they warn you about.

“I have a little bit of a rash. If that’s the worst of it, then, gee whiz, I can deal with that.”

Conventional radiation treatment can target the tumor area but not provide guidance in quantifying the actual dose of radiation being delivered. The DVS provides an “unprecedented level of precision to physicians and added reassurance to breast and prostate cancer patients,” Coliseum surgeon Dr. Keith Martin said in a news release.

The sensor is implanted either during a lumpectomy or tumor removal, or later in a minimally invasive procedure, Cavanaugh said. During radiation treatments, information is transmitted to a handheld monitor and recorded, allowing doctors to verify that patients are receiving prescribed doses.

“The device tells us, in the moment, if the end result is off,” Cavanaugh said. “We’re checking our prescription to make sure that what we had prescribed is what is actually getting into the patient.

“There’s always going to be deviations and errors no matter what you do. We want to know whenever there’s an error that would have some clinical impact.”

The device cannot be used on patients already implanted with electronic devices such as pacemakers, defibrillators or insulin pumps.

Coliseum nurse Andrea Sellers had the sensor implanted in Martin’s office with local anesthesia.

“It doesn’t hurt at all,” she said.

Sellers, 42, was diagnosed with breast cancer in September and had a partial mastectomy. She finished her six weeks-plus radiation treatment about a week ago. She said she had no adverse skin reactions from the radiation.

“They were able to tell that I was getting exactly what I needed to get.”

To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.