Victoria Allen has been battling her brain cancer for two years, but there’s one thing that doesn’t weigh on her mind: Dementia.
That’s because in the course of attacking the tiny brain tumors that appear periodically, her mental faculties and her hair remain intact.
Allen is one of several patients at the Cancer Therapy and Research Center who opted for Steriotactic Radiosurgery instead of whole brain radiation, and in return, her treatment is less invasive.
Her doctor is Professor Richard Crownover, a CTRC Radiation Oncologist, who says Allen’s prognosis was horrible.
However, he has been able to ease her radiation treatment to the point that she is not suffering from the dementia that occurs with whole brain radiation.
“What people develop a year or year and a half after whole brain radiation, they have an inability to form new memories,” explained Crowover.
He says while long-term memories remain solidly in place, a patient will forget what they had for breakfast, for example.
Allen says she has seen the difference among those who are undergoing traditional treatment and is glad to have chosen to utilize radiosurgery instead.
"Just as long as I can prevent that, that is what I want to do ... so I can keep myself together," she said.
She also acknowledges that if the number and size of her brain lesions increase, she may no longer be a candidate for this new approach.
Another difference is the headgear worn during the laser treatment.
Instead of a head-lock attachment a patient must wear all day while being shuttled between offices, this treatment is a tightly fitted helmet with a mask.
Once the area is pinpointed for the radiation, the whole process takes less time and the patient is far more comfortable.
"For a full-blown surgery, because that's what we call it, I'm in and out in an hour. So it could be unpleasant for only a few minutes, in the tightness of the mask. That would be it,” explained Allen.
But in that hour, her tumor is under attack by a series of low-dose beams of radiation that are more harmless to the healthy brain tissue individually.
The area of the tumor eventually gets the full effect where they all meet.
"At the point where all of of these beams are intersecting right at that small tumor, then we get a dose of radiation right in that tiny spot," Crownover said.
On the downside, this treatment option is more expensive than whole-brain radiation, especially when multiple treatments are necessary.
In Victoria’s case, her lesions have stabilized, but her initial lung cancer has returned. She says she is thankful to have been able to enjoy clarity of thought and comfort in the meantime.
For more information on cancer treatment options, the website for the Cancer Therapy and Treatment Center at the University of Texas Health Science Center is www.ctrc.net.