NGMC’s Nationally Ranked Cancer Services Adds Advanced Treatment Technologies

Published: Monday, June 19, 2017

Cancer.  It’s amazing how one little word doesn’t seem so little once it affects someone you love.  But it’s not a diagnosis anyone should face alone.  The cancer team at Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC) – ranked among the top nine percent in the nation for cancer care – is prepared to stand by you.

CareChex, an independent healthcare ratings organization, ranks NGMC among the elite hospitals for cancer care based on several measures including quality of medical care, treatment outcomes and patient satisfaction.

“We’re extremely proud of this national recognition,” says Jayme Carrico, executive director of Oncology Services at NGMC.  “It’s truly a reflection of our organization’s commitment to providing our patients with the highest quality cancer care and treatment options – right at their back door.”

Access to advanced treatment technologies, while not measured by CareChex, is also a large component of quality care, says Carrico.  With that in mind, NGMC has recently added several new technologies, arming its cancer physicians with the latest tools to treat tumors with greater precision and, often, less treatments.  

Advanced Targeting

One of the more common treatments for cancer is radiation therapy, for which NGMC utilizes the True Beam linear accelerator – a machine used to deliver radiation to destroy cancer cells and shrink the tumor.  The addition of a new treatment positioning board, known as the Varian PerfectPitch 6 degrees of freedom (6DoF) couch, now allows for even more precise targeting of the tumor.  The couch’s 6 degrees of freedom refers to adjustments that can be made in all six dimensions, providing improvements in both patient set-up and access to the tumor. 

“Previous equipment only allowed movement in three planes – back-and-forth, side-to-side and up-and-down,” says Craig Baden, MD, a radiation oncologist with Northeast Georgia Physicians Group.  “With the new couch, we can not only rotate the linear accelerator, but also the patients, so they can rest comfortably as we maneuver them into positions which give us better access to the tumors while minimizing the impact to surrounding healthy tissues.”

NGMC’s oncologists can also provide advanced tumor targeting through four-dimensional (4D) computerized tomography (CT) images.  Until recently, the cancer team relied on three-dimensional (3D) images of tumors for treatment planning.  By adding a fourth dimension – time – physicians can provide detailed plans incorporating all four dimensions of the tumor: height, depth, breadth and time, or location of the tumor at that exact time. 

“Tumors are a moving target, especially for cancers in the breast or chest cavity,” says Malay Rao, MD, PharmD, a radiation oncologist with NGPG.  “Even when patients are doing their best to remain still, the tumor will move as they breathe in and out.  Using 4D CT scans allows us to design more accurate treatments and protect surrounding areas.”

In addition to these technologies, NGMC Braselton also recently added high-dose rate brachytherapy to its arsenal of treatment technologies.  Brachytherapy is a type of radiation therapy that involves inserting the source of radiation directly at or very close to a tumor site, while also helping to limit the amount of healthy tissue exposed.  The high-dose rate refers to the use of higher doses of radiation over a shorter time frame.

Specialized Treatments for Brain and Prostate Cancers

Patients with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, now have a new treatment option known as Optune Therapy, which uses ongoing mild electrical currents to interrupt the cancer’s ability to reproduce.  Optune is a portable, FDA-approved device, worn for at least 18 hours a day, that delivers localized electrical therapy through adhesive patches applied to the scalp.  

“Optune is non-invasive, doesn’t involve drugs and has very limited side effects,” says Dr. Baden.  “With standard therapy, a patient with glioblastoma can expect to live a little over a year.  In trials using Optune Therapy, the average survival time for patients increased by several months.”

Patients fighting prostate cancer also have access to two new treatment technologies at NGMC.  The first, known as “SpaceOAR” (Organs at Risk), is an FDA-approved, injectable hydrogel which can help reduce risk of rectal injury during radiation therapy.  The hydrogel works by creating space between the prostate and rectum, resulting in a significantly lower radiation dose to the rectum, which decreases the chances of proctitis (an inflammation of the rectum lining) and other complications.

The second treatment involves the ultrasound-guided placement of fiducial markers, or reference points, which are used before each session to accurately pinpoint where the radiation treatment should be delivered to the prostate.  Both new prostate treatments can be done in a brief outpatient visit.

To learn more about these services and other advanced cancer treatment options at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, visit or call 770-219-8815.