The German hospital group Asklepios is concentrating its resources for treating sarcomas – malignant tumors of the muscle, connective and supporting tissue – in one clinic: the Asklepios Clinic St Georg, located in downtown Hamburg, Germany.
“Here in St. George, we have all of the specialists for sarcomas under one roof, and therefore have the optimal conditions for a nationwide specialized center,” said Michael Schmitt, Executive Director of Asklepios Clinic St Georg.
Experts in the fields of radiology, pathology, nuclear medicine, anesthesia, several different surgical concentrations, oncology and radiation therapy will work together in an interdisciplinary team to treat this rare but serious type of tumor. The team will be lead by Prof. Dr. Carolin Tonus, Head of Department of General and Visceral Surgery at Asklepios St. Georg.
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The concentration of experts and specialized knowledge on sarcomas has existed in Asklepios St. Georg for years, but concentrating all sarcoma treatment in Germany at a single location is new. Now, patients from all over Germany will be sent to this hospital in Hamburg for sarcoma treatment.
For Dr. Tonus, the treatment quality for the patient is the most important. “With two to three new diagnoses per 100,000 people, sarcomas are relatively rare. So for the patients, it’s important that they receive treatment in a center where they have as much experience as possible treating sarcomas,” she said. “In the Asklepios Cinic St. Georg, we receive sarcoma cases from about 30 other hospitals all over Germany, so we can continually improve our know-how in this area. Because more experience leads to better results,” she continued.
Additionally, the center will offer a highly specialized treatment technique that is hardly available anywhere else: intraoperative radiation therapy, or IORT for short.
“With this procedure, we can prepare or even administer the radiation while the operating field is still open,” said Dr. Tonus, who herself did research for years on this procedure. “This leads to improved precision and longer-lasting results.”
Intraoperative radiation therapy is performed during surgery, after the surgeons have removed as much of the tumor as possible. In the procedure, a flexible plate made of artificial materials is fitted over the former tumor bed. Then, while taking care to protect the nearby organs, a specialist applies a targeted radiation beam. This beam is accurate down to the millimeter. Because the radiation only affects the exact area it is applied and does not harm surrounding tissue, German doctors can treat any remnants of the tumor and destroy cancer cells, while effectively minimizing undesirable effects.
Intraoperative radiation therapy is a growing field meant to complement oncological surgery. In Germany, IORT is commonly performed during certain breast cancer procedures, and researchers are testing its effectiveness against other types of tumors. Intraoperative radiation therapy to treat sarcomas is expected to be available in Germany starting in early 2018.