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Northern BC based cancer specialist’s research could help to largely replace chemotherapy treatment globally

Prince George based Cancer Specialist Dr. Robert Olson and his local team have just made an international breakthrough in cancer treatment research.

Dr. Robert Olson | Courtesy UNBC

This treatment could be adopted internationally as a replacement for chemotherapy in many cases in as little as five years, according to Dr. Olson.

The team has just concluded a trial that is now gaining international attention, using radio therapy treatment to aggressively attack cancer cells.

The technology is known as Stereotactic Ablative Radiotherapy (SABR-5),  which is able to give a high dose of radiation to a small target while sparing the surrounding tissue.

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According to Dr. Olson, this technology is a gamechanger.

“Because you have higher doses you can give, you have higher control of the tumors. We have shown that the control of the tumors is greater than 90% at one year, and 80% at three years.”

This radiation technique is not unique to Olson’s team, but their latest trial just saw it used the most effectively that the world has ever seen – the rate of side effects are less than 5% at five years in over 400 patients in the trial.

Other trials with the same technology have seen side effects at rates of 30%.

“The side effects were much lower using our techniques that we developed in BC, and did across all six cancer centres, compared to other publications that have come out from other groups. We have shown it to be the safest use of SABR internationally.”

This technique is very complicated to explain in layman’s’ terms, but Dr. Olson described it as adapting radiation levels based on where a tumor resides.

“We are making sure that we have sharp drop-offs in the dose to give low doses to normal tissues. It is very technical, and specific to which tissue you are talking about – your brain or your spinal cord, very different doses.”

These techniques are now being used in several random control trials across the planet.

Dr. Olson is leading one of these trials himself, which is taking place in 14 different locations, some as far as the UK and Australia.

“It really is leading the way for treatment, not just in the Prince George Centre of the North, but internationally.”

The treatment is being used on cancer cells that have started to spread to up to five sites.

“When cancer has spread from one site to another, the conventional wisdom was that it was no longer curative” he said. “We would give palliative treatment like easier chemotherapies… we challenged that paradigm, showing that people are living longer when you aggressively treat cancer that has spread from one to five sites. Maybe we will push that paradigm even further past five sites.”

Olson says the way treatment of cancer is done could be changing, from “palliative chemotherapy being the standard old treatment, to now doing aggressive SABR.”

He says it currently looks like this treatment could make cancer a lot more curable.

“For one to five [tumor] sites, it looks like this is a promising technique and you should consider being part of our trials. This is probably going to become the standard of care in the next five years or so.”

Olson said someone with 15 or more tumor sites would still be recommended chemotherapy.

In conclusion, Doctor Olson said “I always like to say that I am proud that we lead these trials from Prince George.”

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