Moffitt Marks 1,000 Patient Milestone with MRI Linac

By Steve Blanchard - July 11, 2023

Compared to other technologies, this one is like a Ferrari.

That’s according to Tony Sutylo of The Villages, who is among the first 1,000 patients to be treated with the MRI Linac at Moffitt Cancer Center.

The reference makes sense when you learn that Sutylo, 67, was once an auto appraiser and the owner of body shops that worked on high-end vehicles. Today, he’s retired and is undergoing treatment for a cancerous spot on his liver.

“When I first went into the treatment unit, two guys were helping to set it up and gave me these glasses,” he said. “That machine … I feel like I’m in ‘Star Wars.’”

While it may look like science fiction, the MRI Linac is very real. And very advanced, according to Dr. Kosj Yamoah, chair of Moffitt’s Radiation Oncology Program.

“Our center is focused on providing personalized radiotherapy using the most advanced technology,” he said. “The MRI Linac technology enables adaptive beam delivery to high doses with unprecedented accuracy directed at specific disease sites, minimizing exposure to normal cells and lessening side effects.”

portrait of blockquote author

"The MRI Linac technology enables adaptive beam delivery to high doses with unprecedented accuracy directed at specific disease sites, minimizing exposure to normal cells and lessening side effects."

- Dr. Kosj Yamoah

The technology of the MRI Linac is revolutionary and allows radiation therapy experts at Moffitt to treat patients in a way that was unheard of just a few years ago. According to Dr. Stephen Rosenberg, director of MRI guided radiation therapy at Moffitt, the treatment unit combines two different technologies, an MRI scan and a linear accelerator.

“An MRI scan lets us see things in great detail, both tumor and normal anatomy, way beyond what we see with a classical CT scan,” he said. “The linear accelerator produces high powered X-rays that are used to treat patients with cancer. Combining these two pieces of technology into one tool allows us to do new and exciting things for our patients we could never do before.”

portrait of blockquote author

"Combining these two pieces of technology into one tool allows us to do new and exciting things for our patients we could never do before."

- Dr. Stephen Rosenberg

The MRI Linac, which has been a part of the radiation team’s arsenal since 2019, lets operators see soft tissue in very fine detail. It also offers a real-time visualization of what’s happening inside the body so that radiation treatment can be more direct and more accurate.

That precise treatment gives Sutylo hope, and he remains optimistic.

“My life is in my doctor’s hands,” Sutylo said. “You have to go by what the professionals tell you to do and they seem very confident.”

Sutylo said he will undergo five treatments in the MRI Linac over a two-week span. It’s an outpatient procedure, and he doesn’t mind making the hour drive from home each time.

Image of a patient in the MRI Linac machine with two medical professionals assisting
The ViewRay MRI Linac

“My previous doctor recommended Moffitt and I’m so glad I’m here,” he said. “This treatment unit was explained to me, and I was in it twice for setting things up. It’s an impressive technology!”

According to Rosenberg, the treatment unit is impressive to its operators, as well, and allows healthy tissue to be spared from radiation.

“Your heart is beating, your lungs are moving, your diaphragm and your bowels are moving,” Rosenberg said. “The only way we used to be able to account for that is basically treating a large area because the tumor moves while those things are happening. With this technology, we can adapt the radiation treatment based on the anatomy of the day.  Under the guidance of our radiation therapists, the software will ascertain the location of the tumor, track it in real time and the radiation will only turn on when the tumor is in the exact right position.”

photo of Tony and Joanne Sutylo
Tony and Joanne Sutylo

That accuracy, Rosenberg said, allows radiation oncologists to decrease treatment volumes and spare healthy organs and tissue, which in turn may decrease side effects. Sutylo was originally diagnosed in 2019 when doctors found a spot on his lung. After part of his lung was removed, doctors found the cancer had spread to his femur and, eventually, his liver. Despite the difficult journey, he said he feels fortunate and is happy to have found Moffitt.

“When I walked into Moffitt for the first time, I felt this sense of calmness,” Sutylo said. “I looked at everyone there, either spouses or those who were in the same situation I am, and I felt confident. Whatever is going to happen, I know I’m in good hands.”

Sutylo credits his care team, as well, including Rosenberg, who Sutylo describes as an “energetic young man who believes in this technology and the software.”

“This is a fantastic tool used to treat cancer, but it’s not our only tool,” Rosenberg said. “The MRI Linac is definitely very helpful for some, but not helpful for everybody. We also have ongoing clinical trials open or opening soon that may benefit other patients. We want to show we are adding value for patients through clinical trials. For patients interested in the MRI Linac, the important first step is to get a consultation.”

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