When you are fighting cancer, you don't want to cause damage to any of your healthy organs or tissue. That's where Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy or IMRT comes into play. We met a 69 year old man from Yankton who is celebrating the one year mark after being diagnosed with bile duct cancer. He credits early detection and a special kind of radiation therapy at Avera Sacred Heart.
Wally Spencer is one of the lucky ones. He not only survived one of the rarest cancers, he is doing extremely well. It started in January of 2009 after he noticed his skin started turning yellow and his stomach was always upset. He went to his doctor.
Wally says, "They found out there were stones in my gallbladder. They took the stones out, but the doctor saw a thickening in the wall of my bile duct. They did a biopsy and it came back cancer.
Specialists in Omaha removed his gallbladder and cancerous common bile duct and re-routed ducts in his abdomen. After recovering from surgery Wally came home to Yankton to undergo chemo and radiation. Again, lucky for Wally, the Avera Sacred Heart Cancer Center is the only place in Yankton to offer Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy or IMRT.
Radiation Oncologist Dr. Michael Peterson is also the Medical Director of the Avera Sacred Heart's Cancer Center. He says, "What it does is use a lot of different beam angles with a lot of different intensities in each beam that allows us to wrap radiation dose around curved structures. That's important because the human body is made up of many important curve structures that we want to protect."
Since Wally was getting radiation in the area where his gallbladder and bile duct used to be, IMRT proved to be essential because Dr. Peterson wanted to protect neighboring organs like the liver, bowel, stomach, right kidney and spinal cord.
Dr. Peterson says, "The fact that we are able to treat so specifically allows patients to tolerate this kind of treatment very well."
Wally says, "I feel great. I put on 40 pounds. I'm now only 10 pounds lighter than I was pre-cancer."
Luck may have played a part, but most would say Wally was smart to go the doctor early on when his symptoms first appeared and he says he was smart to choose Avera Sacred Heart for specialized treatment.
Wally goes in for check-ups every 3 months and says so far so good. Because he had his gallbladder removed, he says he's had to change his eating habits. He now reads labels carefully and stays away from fatty foods.