New technology, new program geared toward helping treat cancer after it has spread


Targeting metastatic diseaseUF oncologists are using a sophisticated medical device to treat patients who have recent diagnoses of metastatic cancer, where the disease has started to spread from one part of the body to another.

Called Vero, the device delivers stereotactic body radiotherapy, or SBRT, in a way that allows the physician to track and view the tumor in real time during treatment. This permits a high degree of precision in delivering targeted doses of radiation therapy, especially in areas of the body that experience motion during treatment.

What is Vero?

Benefits: With advanced imaging capabilities, the machine can track tumors in the body in real time and deliver precise radiation doses to eradicate them.

Patients: Patients whose disease has spread beyond the original tumor to other parts of the body will benefit from the precise radiation and tumortracking abilities of Vero.

Proton therapy: Vero adds to the radiotherapy capabilities of the UF Proton Therapy Institute, which currently houses two intensity-modulated radiation therapy machines equipped with image-guided radiation therapy and a proton therapy system that has four treatment rooms. The cancer treatment center includes an open MRI machine, a CT scanner and a PET-CT scanner for use in treatment planning. Together these medical devices create one of the most advanced radiotherapy facilities in the world.

“With Vero we can track tumors in real time, allowing precise doses of SBRT to be delivered to tumors that are moving as the patient breathes or with the patient’s heart beat,” said Paul Okunieff, M.D., a professor and chair of the UF department of radiation oncology and director of the UF Shands Cancer Center.

Okunieff pioneered the use of SBRT to treat metastatic disease in its early stages. His research, published with colleagues from the University of Rochester, concludes that the chances for long-term survival improve significantly when metastatic disease in a very early state — that is, with five or fewer lesions — is treated with high dose, targeted SBRT. This aggressive approach has a track record of success, with long-term overall survival of as much as 46 percent for certain types of metastatic cancers.

The Vero technology is part of the UF&Shands Metastatic Disease Program recently established to treat patients on the Jacksonville and Gainesville campuses. Rather than accepting that cancer that has spread should only be treated to alleviate symptoms, the UF&Shands Metastatic Program is taking a radically different approach — working to catch the cancer’s spread early and treating with intent to cure. The goal is to enroll each patient accepted into the program into clinical research studies in an effort to generate the scientific evidence of the treatment’s success in changing metastatic cancer from a terminal condition to one that is manageable, if not completely curable. — Theresa Makrush

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Winter 2013

Paul Okunieff, M.D

From the director’s desk

For nearly 50 years, the UF department of radiation oncology has blazed a trail … we highlight the role this crucial department has played in the evolution of cancer care and research at UF and in the nation.

Targeting metastatic disease

UF oncologists are using a sophisticated medical device to treat patients who have recent diagnoses of metastatic cancer, called VERO.

The trailblazers: Pioneers of radiation oncology

UF’s radiation oncology department has been leading the way in research, care, education and technology for almost five decades.

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