Sep 24, 2021 1:48 PM

New Radiation Oncologist explains how treatment works

Posted Sep 24, 2021 1:48 PM

By NICK GOSNELL

Hutch Post

HUTCHINSON, Kan. — Dr. Shirley Butler is the new Radiation Oncologist at Chalmers Cancer Center, part of Hutchinson Regional Healthcare System. Her job is different from those who do surgery or use chemotherapy as part of a cancer treatment regimen.

"We don't do any cutting," Butler said. "It's all through X-Rays or other energy beams. What we do is use high-energy x-ray or other energy beams that break the DNA of cells. Radiation can be delivered externally, with what we call a linear accelerator, or internally through radioactive seeds or solutions. Cancer cells, because they are so fast reproducing, they are less able to recover from the DNA damage and so are more preferentially killed with radiation, whereas normal cells, they are more able to recover from the damage of radiation therapy."

Sometimes all the different types of treatment are needed on the same case, but sometimes radiation can work by itself.

"For certain types of cancer, such as early stage head and neck cancers, for example, radiation by itself can be curative," Butler said. "I can cure the cancer just by giving radiation, that's a little less common."

Normally, Butler sees her role as cleaning out the leftover cancer cells after surgery or chemotherapy or both.

"Even the tip of my pen is about a million cells," Butler said. "If we go in, the surgeon goes in and we just can't see, they take out what they can see. There is still a chance that there could be microscopic cells left that we just can't see and so, radiation, I equate to a mop. We go in and we take care of all the little things that we can't really see on inspection."

Nearly two million Americans, including 17,000 in Kansas are diagnosed each year with cancer.