Update: Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT)

In my prior post, I discussed a worsening cough and recommendation from my oncologist, Dr. David Pfister at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), to consider stereotactic body radiation therapy or SBRT. This treatment is designed to deliver extremely precise, very intense doses of radiation to cancer cells while minimizing damage to healthy tissue.

My radiation oncologist, Dr. Nancy Lee at MSKCC, developed a treatment plan using SBRT to target single tumor sites in each of my lungs and spleen. Starting with my left lung, the first treatment took place Monday, July 23, 2018, and continued on Wednesday and Friday of that same week. The same schedule was used the following week for my right lung. A single SBRT session was used to target the lesion on my spleen, which was completed last Wednesday, August 15, 2018.

The unit for radiation measurement of absorbed dose is “gray” (Gy). I received a total of about 27 Gy to each lung site (9 Gy per session / 3 sessions) and about 9 Gy to my spleen in a single session. In contrast, I received about 70 Gy to my head/neck over the course of 7 weeks back in early 2016 as part of my conventional chemoradiation treatment.

With SBRT, only a small area of your body is exposed to radiation. This means that SBRT usually causes fewer side effects than other types of radiation therapy. According to patient education materials provided by MSKCC, about half of the people who have SBRT don’t have any side effects from treatment.

So far, the SBRT “experience” has been exactly as billed. Other than post-traumatic stress from going through the radiation procedure again, along with some mild fatigue, I haven’t experienced any significant side effects from SBRT. Encouragingly, my cough has already diminished both in frequency and severity. So, the radiation is likely doing its job of shrinking tumors that may be obstructing my airway.

Towards the end of September, I’ll have another CT scan to see how the radiated (and non-radiated) tumors responded to the SBRT. Radiation can cause inflammation in the short-term, which hampers the interpretation of scan results. Accordingly, it is prudent to wait at least a month before imaging.

Until then, I’m continuing my human papillomavirus (HPV) awareness activities and encouraging vaccination of preteen boys and girls to help prevent six cancers linked to HPV. Sadly, there is still a lot of room for improvement in vaccination rates.

In 2017, nearly 49 percent of adolescents received all the recommended doses to complete the HPV vaccination series according to a new study. This is less than a 5% increase from 2016 when 43.4% of adolescents (49.5% of females; 37.5% of males) were up to date with the HPV vaccination series. Today, 51 percent of adolescents still have not completed the HPV vaccine series!

To be meaningful, HPV vaccination rates need to be closer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Healthy People 2020 target of 80 percent coverage. This isn’t unrealistic, as around 80 percent of adolescents receive two other recommended vaccines—a vaccine to prevent meningococcus, which causes bloodstream infections and meningitis, and the Tdap vaccine to prevent tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis.

Parents, I beg you again—please vaccinate your children against HPV.

5 thoughts on “Update: Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT)

  1. Read your plea to parents in today’s Inquirer to vaccinate their kids NOW. It’s probably one of those things where parents cannot imagine their kids being sexually active, so they don’t get it. Yet they get vaccinations for other known diseases. I would recommend we pressure the Feds to require it for admission to middle school, but I don’t see the right political environment for that. If you have some ideas on how we can impact this situation to save the lives of our kids who are ready to be vaccinated, let me know. Living with this in my family makes me wish we had it back then. The cure is here. What can I do? I’m ready.

  2. I am happy to hear an good update of your condition. I continue to pray for you and your family, Mr Becker.

    gina mikulski

  3. I had my daughter vaccinated many years ago when she was an adolescent. Thankful I had a physician for her that was on top of this because it was a fairly new concept. Your awareness campaign is so admirable.

    My husband’s (stage IV SCC) recent scan showed “no evidence of disease” after Cetuximab, surgery and then VMAT Rapid Arc photon radiation. Fingers crossed at his next 3 month scan in late Oct. He feels pretty good and is back in the gym. We are trying to live life to the fullest and not worry if anything is percolating in anticipation of the next scan. Some days easier said than done, but we have Scotland in sight for next year.

    I hope you don’t have any difficult side effects, and my continued prayers for you and your family.

    • Fiona – thank you for such a wonderful note and kind words! Thoughts and prayers for continued clean scans for your husband. Embrace every day!

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