New radiation therapy options for OHSU patients

RadMed Brachy Team
Photo info, from left to right: Bonnie Luedloff R.T.T. (radiation therapist), Anja Goerke R.N. (radiation nurse), Jenna Kahn M.D. (radiation oncologist), Richard Crilly Ph.D. (radiation physicist), Christopher Deig M.D. (radiation oncology resident), Ross Brody Ph.D. (radiation physicist).
November 30, 2020

Jenna Kahn, M.D., performs first interstitial OHSU brachytherapy procedure

Jenna Kahn, M.D., was recruited to OHSU in 2019 to start a brachytherapy program.

Brachytherapy is a type of radiation therapy that allows physicians to deliver higher doses of radiation, with a high level of accuracy, to specific areas of the body, while minimizing radiation exposure to surrounding cells.

“Brachytherapy can be utilized for many different types of cancer, and generally improves patient survival. Because we can give much higher doses than the normal structures can tolerate, we see local control and overall survival rates improve in certain cancers,” she says. “We can only do that if we are directly in the tumor vs. trying to do it from the outside.”

She says, on average, there is a 10 – 15 % improvement in overall patient survival in cervical cancer when brachytherapy is a part of their treatment plan.

With Kahn’s recruitment, the OHSU brachytherapy program was approved in February 2020, she was in the process of preparing to treat patients when the global pandemic hit. After a pause, her team—which includes a nurse, a brachytherapist/radiation therapist and physicist—were able to safely, and officially, start the program in in August 2020. She worked with the team to offer vaginal cylinder brachytherapy and has been able to treat many patients with endometrial and vaginal cancer with this therapy.

Kahn and team performed the first brachytherapy procedure –- a gynecological interstitial implant -- on November 2, for a patient with cervical cancer.

“I feel very fortunate to be here and that OHSU is supporting the growth of the brachytherapy program for our patients and Oregonians,” she says. “I do think this will make a meaningful impact to their care.”

Kahn plans to continue to expand this offering for patients across the state and region. “I’ll be implanting patients from Coos Bay and Roseburg, in the coming weeks,” she says. “What’s neat is that patients can receive part of their radiation somewhere closer to home, then come to an academic medical center like OHSU for this specialized treatment.”

Charles Thomas, M.D., chair of the Department of Radiation Medicine in the OHSU School of Medicine, calls the brachytherapy program a “game changer.”  

“Having the ability to offer our patients more targeted treatment is extraordinary,” he says. “This is clear evidence that we are proactive, not simply reactive in getting this program moving.”

Kahn extends her thanks to multiple departments who made this first procedure possible: “Thank you to everyone in the Radiation Medicine department at OHSU for all of your help and support. Thank you to our collaborators in gynecology oncology, anesthesia, OR, and the inpatient unit. We could not have done it without a full team collaboration and it truly allows OHSU to be able to comprehensively treat these patients.”

The brachytherapy team plans to start treating patients with prostate cancer in February 2021, and they hope to start offering the treatment to patients with breast cancer as soon as Spring 2021.