Two new Varian TrueBeam linear accelerator radiation therapy machines should help improve cancer treatment in the London area.

Health Minister Deb Matthews discussed provincial funding for the machines at an appearance at the London Health Sciences Centre on Tuesday.

“Patients who would have in the past been considered palliative are now considered curable. That’s a pretty extraordinary improvement,” Matthews says.

They are among the most advanced radiation therapy machines of their kind and will replace older units at the hospital.

One advantage is their improved precision for treating smaller tumours.

Dr. Glenn Bauman, a radiation oncologist with the London Regional Cancer Program, says “There are certain patients for instance with early cancers in the lung, where we might not have been able to deliver the high dose radiation that we needed to eradicate the cancer, that this machinery gives us the capability of treating.”

They also deliver radiation therapy more efficiently, reducing side-effects, shortening the amount of time needed for treatment and improving outcomes.

Dr. Stewart Gaede, medical physicist with the London Regional Cancer Program, adds “We're able to treat up to four times faster. There are certain filters that are placed in the beam…that we just don't necessarily need for these smaller tumours. By removing the filters we're able to treat with a much higher dose rate.”

These factors are especially important for lung and liver cancers, where breathing can make the tumour a moving target.

“Sometimes tumours can move more than a centimetre - up to two centimeters sometimes - so to be able to compensate for that is very, very important,” Gaede says.

The machine is so precise, tumours can shrink while treatment is underway, so radiation levels on the machines can also be adapted more easily.

Bauman says “We have a patient comfort issue in that they're in the room for shorter periods of time and we have a treatment delivery capability that really is going to minimize side effects and maximize our chances of controlling the tumours.”

There are currently two machines at the London Regional Cancer Program and a third will come online in November. An estimated 1,400 patients will benefit each year.

The machine is also being used for studies into how it’s delivery of radiation compares to surgery and chemotherapy.