Software analyzes images to focus radiation beams at CHLA

Radiation therapy is being enhanced by advanced software and imaging technology to boost effectiveness of treatment at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

Specialized software is a mainstay of the technology being used to advance treatment accuracy for pediatric cancer patients. Accurate aiming of radiation is critical in small patients because the margin for error is minimal in attacking cancer sites.

The emerging treatment deals with the issue of patient stability as they stay in one position while being exposed to beams of radiation—that’s critical to ensure that the beams are properly targeting the tumor. To do that, X-ray images are taken before each treatment, and radiation therapists use the information to orient the patient to ensure they’re in the exact same position for each treatment.

Physicians are using technology to take this process one step further—the software is being evaluated to see if it can achieve quality assurance in radiation therapy.

In typical treatment, a beam of radiation passes through a patient and is captured on an imaging panel. Arthur Olch, a radiation therapist at CHLA, is using the information carried by these beams, called exit images, using the software. Olch contends the images contain important information about the exact dose being delivered to the tumor and surrounding tissues, and that data can be compared with the planned doses.

With as many as 20 images generated from each treatment session—and treatments occurring every day for several weeks—the total amount of data is huge, and too massive for humans to manually process. The software being developed at the hospital can process the data in seconds, automating not only image capture during treatment but also the analysis.

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The result, Olch contends, is that the facility is able to apply higher quality assurance standards to radiation therapy to ensure it’s optimally effective.

“It’s difficult to say at this point whether this will necessarily cure more children. But if we can better target their tumors and refine our radiation dosing, we are reducing toxicity and giving kids their best possible chance,” contends Olch, who’s also a professor of clinical radiation oncology at USC.

Software analysis is important in positioning patients because of a multitude of changes that can occur over the course of treatment, Olch says. “If a patient gains or loses weight, their dimensions change,” he says. “Likewise, as the tumor shrinks, radiation beams need to take a different trajectory.”

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