Recently, I had a discussion with a friend about what a tough nut cancer has been to crack. This is largely due to the fact that cancer is not a single disease, but a huge cluster of marginally related illnesses, each of which require different kinds of tests and treatments. For example, although radiotherapy can be very affective for treating lung cancer, using the right amount of radiation can be very tricky. This is because the very act of breathing can move cancerous lesions around by up to 4 cm. Doctors have therefore been faced with the choice of targeting smaller regions, and possibly missing some or all of the tumor, or of targeting a wide area of the lung, possibly damaging healthy tissue.
A way to get around this problem is to use ‘breathing-adapted radiotherapy’ (BART), a technique that takes breathing into account. Simply put, doctors perform a 4D CT (computed tomography) scan that shows them how each breath (inhalation through expiration) affects tumor placement in real time. Dr Nicolas Peguret and his colleagues from Hôpitau Universitaires de Genève designed software that can determine the optimal time and location in which to apply the radiotherapy. They presented their findings at the 2nd European Lung Cancer Conference in Geneva, Switzerland.Clinical trials of this new technique are already underway. If the tests are successful, Peguret and his team anticipate the use of BART and 4D CT scans for many other kinds of cancer that could be affected by breathing.