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If Cancer Could be Cured Without Pain

While the treatment of cancer has been problematic in the past, what if it could be cured without the pain of surgery?* Researchers with this idea in mind have come up with a cancer treatment system that uses the advanced technology of particle beams while keeping patient stress to a minimum. We are committed to the continued development of this particle beam therapy system to help patients enjoy a better quality of life.

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※Current methods for treating cancer select the best approach based on the position and condition of the treatment site.

A Method of Treatment that Values the Patient’s Quality of Life (QoL)

As the number of people with cancer continues to grow against a backdrop of changes in diet and lifestyles, cancer has become a risk we all face. On the other hand, major progress has been made to overcome the difficult nature of cancer treatment. Along with improving success rates, there is increasing demand for better quality of life (QoL) so that patients can continue to function in society while receiving treatment. We now live in an age when we are able to ask the question, “how will we go about curing cancer?”

Cancer treatments can be broadly divided into three categories: surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. Of these, radiotherapy has developed a reputation for treating patients without pain, and without placing stress on their bodies thanks to its ability to provide non-invasive treatment. Particle beam therapy is one form of radiotherapy.

Particle beam therapy directs a beam of protons (hydrogen nuclei) or carbon ions at the treatment site to destroy or eradicate cancerous cells.

This therapy can pinpoint the treatment site by taking advantage of its ability to concentrate the dose at the target location by adjusting the energy of the beam based on the treatment site depth.

A feature of particle beam therapy is that, because of its ability to be used for pinpoint targeting of the treatment site, it places less stress on the patient’s body than conventional methods. This means that patients can remain at work and continue with their daily lives while receiving treatment as outpatients. The reason why particle beam therapy is thought of as being easy on patients is not only because the treatment results in less physical stress, but also because it allows patients to go about their daily lives.

Precise Targeting, Even of Treatment Sites that Move Due to Respiration or Emotional Reaction

The proton therapy system that Hitachi developed jointly with Hokkaido University Hospital has two main features.

The first is that it can deal with parts of the body that are in continuous motion. Depending on where they are located, cancers can move around not only due to respiration, heartbeat, or intestinal activity, but also as a result of emotional reactions such as tension or anxiety. While the past practice for dealing with this movement was to broaden the target region, it is now possible to use a technique called tumor-tracking that monitors the movement of the target site during radiotherapy and is able, as its name suggests, to track these movements.

The second feature of the proton therapy system is its ability to deal with a variety of treatment shapes and sizes. The shapes of cancerous organs or other body parts vary in size and location. Spot scanning radiotherapy was developed to deal with this. Using a tightly focused proton beam and scanning it over the treatment site enables the beam to be better concentrated on the target location.

This represents an advancement in proton beam therapy as the combination of tumor-tracking and spot scanning techniques enables the radiotherapy to conform to the shape of the treatment site, even if it moves due to respiration or other bodily function.

Hiroki Shirato, head of the Proton Beam Therapy Center at Hokkaido University Hospital, comments that, "It has been said for some time that spot scanning would become a standard practice for proton beam therapy. Unfortunately, there were difficulties with targeting the beam at organs that move due to respiration or other reasons. We have been able to deal with these difficulties, however, through our joint research with Hitachi while also engaging with them in ongoing dialogue on the role of proton beam therapy throughout the healthcare industry.

Utilizing the Latest Technologies for Patient-friendly Treatments--
Hitachi will continue to drive healthcare innovation to help create a world in which people everywhere can enjoy healthy lives.

- The Installation of an Innovative Irradiation Technology, Bolstered by the Words of Children -

Hiroyuki Itami
Hitachi,Ltd. Healthcare Business Unit
Radiation Oncology Systems Division
Executive General Manager

The MD Anderson Cancer Center (located in Houston, Texas, USA), a world-class specialist cancer clinic, commenced operation of a Hitachi particle beam therapy system in 2006. This was followed in 2008 by the introduction of a spot scanning irradiation technology that was the first in the world to be approved for sale by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Hiroyuki Itami, who heads Hitachi’s radiotherapy systems department and has been involved in development for many years, looks back on that time.

Hitachi’s involvement with particle beam therapy systems stems from its experience with synchrotron accelerators, which use electromagnetism for the controlled acceleration of various atomic nuclei. We were confident in our ability to accelerate and control particle beams.

Following the installation of a proton beam therapy system at University of Tsukuba Hospital, the first such facility in Japan to be located on a hospital site, our system was chosen for installation at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, a world-class specialist cancer clinic. Despite our limited experience with particle beam therapy systems, they were prepared to place their full trust in the assorted technologies that Hitachi had built up over time. To respond to this commitment, we needed to successfully deliver spot scanning, a world’s first in clinical radiotherapy.

The project initially involved three treatment rooms equipped with conventional particle beam therapy, with an additional spot scanning treatment room to be added subsequently. The addition of spot scanning radiotherapy was intended to provide greater precision together with a significant reduction in the stress imposed on the patient. Unfortunately, numerous issues arose during implementation and a difficult period of around two years followed during which I commuted between Japan and America every month to participate in on-site commissioning and discussions. Among the things I saw at the clinic during that time were messages and photographs of children receiving treatment for child cancer. Spirits on the project were buoyed by the thought that it was the treatment these children received from Hitachi’s particle beam therapy system that was giving them a future, and that thanks to the technology they could enjoy long lives to come.

The synchrotron accelerator accelerates particles up to about 70% of the speed of light and supplies them to the treatment rooms.
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Along with further improvements in accuracy, our aims for the future include such hardware improvements as smaller size, lower cost, and easier operation. On the software side, we intend to help create systems that make it easy to select the best treatment for each patient, including working with a variety of hospitals to make use of past therapy data. I believe this will make it easier for a diverse range of institutions to adopt particle beam therapy and give patients greater peace of mind.

Our aim is to contribute to innovation in cancer treatment through the use of Hitachi technologies and data, and by engaging in collaborative creation with hospitals around the world.