Keesler AFB dental, oncologists innovate radiation therapy tool for cancer patients

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Spencer Tobler
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs

In an effort to make radiation therapy for cancer patients more precise and effective, Keesler Air Force Base’s 81st Diagnostic and Therapeutic Squadron and the 81st Dental Squadron innovated a way to craft more precise radiation boluses for patients undergoing care with the 81st Medical Group.

The bolus acts as a medium for the radiation and enables oncologists to lay down a precise amount of energy to a cancer infected area. Radiation particles don’t output energy unless they have a medium to travel through.

“In radiation therapy, we use high energy particles to treat cancer,” said Col. Jason Hayes, 81st MDTS radiation oncologist. “The word bolus actually refers to a piece of equipment that helps concentrate the dose of radiation energy at the skin’s surface.”

When treating something on the skin’s surface with radiation therapy, the very upper layers of the skin won’t receive the radiation because the dose doesn’t start building up until it’s beneath the top layer of the skin, Hayes said.

Historically, oncologists used flexible pieces of rubber taped to patient’s faces.

“The old boluses were always cumbersome,” Hayes said. “It’d never be reproduced exactly how it was last time. Some of these patients can have up to 20 treatments.”

With the help of dental, oncology now has the ability to customize boluses.

“We got an impression of the patients’ faces using our computer aid design scanner to scan the patient’s face,” said Stephen Dereis, 81st DS dental laboratory technician. “We essentially tricked our computer into thinking the person’s face was a dental model, as far as the computer thinks, it’s just one weird looking mouth.”

The new bolus making process for each patient has made radiation treatment more effective and helped patient treatment increase in quality and consistency.

“This partnership with dental is going to help us be more efficient and exact, which in-turn, will make us safer,” Hayes said. “If I talk to another radiation oncologist we think alike, but when I talk to a dentist or another medical provider they approach problems differently and the outcome is almost always something novel.”