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Skin Cancer Blasted With X-rays

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | September 07, 2009
The Axxent Electronic Brachytherapy
System uses low levels of radiation,
making it safe to use in
minimally shielded rooms
This July, doctors at Riverview Hospital in Wisconsin treated patients for skin cancer by blasting the cancerous cells with X-rays emitted from a low-energy source embedded in the skin -- the first time such technology has been used to fight skin cancer, according to Xoft, Inc., a California-based company that helped develop the technology used in the treatment.

While brachytherapy -- fighting cancer with internal sources of radiation--has been in use for decades, the Axxent Electronic Brachytherapy System is especially appropriate for treating skin cancers, according to Xoft, because it emits targeted, low-levels of radiation, so there is little or no radiation scatter.

"It's called high dose, with low energy," Mike Klein, CEO of Xoft, tells DOTmed News. "So you deliver the dose to the tissues you want, but because the energy falls off very rapidly," he says, there is little risk of collateral damage to the tissue, making it an ideal form of treatment for skin cancers.

By contrast, traditional external beam radiation treatments are like "trying to shoot something with a bazooka when you only need a scalpel. Or in our case, a beamlet of ionizing radiation," he says.

Conventional radiation therapies require heavily shielded rooms to absorb excess radiation and to protect oncologists administering the procedure. "You can't be near the patients," says Klein. "You have to be behind three feet of concrete."

According to Klein, there are only 2,000 locations in the United States where such high-energy radiation therapies can be performed, mostly in densely-populated suburban areas, "where a multi-million dollar piece of equipment, and a million-dollar shielded room has some economic utility," he says.

In contrast, Klein says his system -- which costs less than $400,000, compared with the $2 million price tag of most machines, and only requires light shielding -- would be available at tens of thousands of locations across America. "[It] democratizes radiation therapy," he says.

The x-ray emitting source.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the country, with almost one million cases diagnosed each year, killing over 10,000 Americans annually, according to the American Cancer Society.