In the face of fierce competition among major heavy electric machinery manufacturers, Toshiba delivered Japan’s first rotating gantry for heavy ion cancer therapy using superconducting technology to the National Institutes for Quantum Science and Technology (QST) Hospital in 2016. The gantry is the cylindrical, doughnut-like area where the patient receives treatment, and its 360-degree rotation allows precise beam irradiation from any angle, significantly expanding the scope of treatment.
Now, the East Japan Heavy Ion Center at Yamagata University’s Faculty of Medicine has the world’s smallest rotating gantry, smaller than that of the QST Hospital, thanks to Toshiba’s technology.
There are three main cancer treatments: surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy.
Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Unlike X-ray, heavy ion beam can be tailored to deliver ionization peaks* and higher energy to cancerous tumors, which means that they can destroy them while minimizing damage to normal cells. X-ray is most effective closer to the body’s surface and become weaker as they travel through the body, whereas heavy ion beam can irradiate cancer cells with pinpoint accuracy.
*The process whereby the energy of the radiation as it passes through a material repels the electrons (negative charge) of the atoms in the material and separates them into positively charged atoms and free electrons.
The most significant feature of heavy ion therapy is being able to carry out treatment without damaging unaffected areas. It can also be used relatively often with elderly patients with coexisting conditions that reduce options. It improves Quality of Life (QOL) because outpatient treatment is possible, and one major benefit is that patients do not have to take leave or even quit working. This precision also reduces physical burdens and side effects, so next-generation cancer treatment expects to adopt heavy-ions systems widely.
QST Hospital and other facilities that have installed heavy ion therapy equipment are conducting a series of clinical trials as part of the “Japan Carbon-ion Radiation Oncology Study Group Trial.” The East Japan Heavy Ion Center is also reportedly planning to begin clinical trials for liver and pancreatic cancer once the rotating gantry is in stable operation.