01:00am Tuesday 19 November 2019

New radiation oncology suite designed to ease patient anxiety

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — A diagnosis of cancer and its anticipated treatment typically create extraordinary emotional strain for patients and their families.

UC Davis Cancer Center hopes to make this period a little less stressful. In its ongoing effort to provide patients with leading-edge care designed with the patient’s comfort in mind, the cancer center has opened a new, high-tech suite for radiation treatment planning.

“Treatment simulation is one of the first things that happens after a cancer diagnosis, and it’s a difficult time for a patient,” said Dail Lodge, chief technical administrative officer in the Department of Radiation Oncology. “It’s nice on that first day to be as comfortable and relaxed as possible.”

The suite combines the latest CT technology with special lighting, sound and projection to make the environment more soothing for the patient. A new four-dimensional treatment simulator allows for more accurate planning as it takes into account the patient’s respiration cycle. The CT machine also features a larger bore, allowing patients to be more comfortable as their scan progresses. Recessed lighting and translucent glass that separates the radiation therapists from the treatment room further enhance the experience.
Children and adults who come to the radiation oncology clinic for treatment planning — the first appointment before radiation therapy can start — are now offered their choice of ambiance, one with sights and sounds designed specifically to calm nerves and empower patients. Patients select a theme from a touch pad before entering the room, and theme-oriented music accompanies projected scenes of mountains, lakes, underwater seascapes and other calming images.

Depending on the theme selected, birds fly overhead, clouds pass, palm trees sway or the sun rises and sets. For children, animated scenes depict the view from a submarine, inside a jungle and from the sky.

Eleven-year-old Samantha (Sammy) Stone experienced the new suite recently. It was her second visit to radiation oncology for treatment planning, and the experience was a great improvement over the prior one, she said.

“I was very feisty because I was tired of radiation,” she says. “The new room kind of just like calmed me down.”

The Vacaville sixth grader was diagnosed in November with rhabdomyosarcoma, a muscle-tissue cancer, in her face. Radiation and chemotherapy have helped shrink the tumor, but now Sammy is being treated for cancerous lesions in her lung.

“When she found out she had to have radiation to the lung she had a meltdown,” says Sammy’s mother, Brenda Murphy. “The day we went in for simulation, the new machine was quite distracting, and it was a good thing.”
During the treatment planning process, which can last a few minutes to over an hour, the slow-moving images are projected onto the walls and ceiling above the scanner.  Patients can see the projected images regardless of their position on the CT table.

The experience is especially helpful for pediatric patients, said Rick Harse, chief radiation therapist in the department. The calming effect of the CT suite may reduce the need to sedate children, thereby reducing risk, as well as time and expense.  And parents like the fact that their child is distracted and feels more at ease during the scanning procedure, he said.

UC Davis Cancer Center is a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center that cares for 9,000 adults and children with cancer each year from throughout the Central Valley and inland Northern California. Its Outreach Research and Education Program works to eliminate ethnic disparities in cancer region-wide.

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