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How 3-D Printing Technology Could Advance Cancer Treatment

Rapidly evolving technology means we no long live, work or even practice medicine the way we did in past decades. From electronic medical records to telehealth, technology has taken the medical field by storm and cancer care is no exception.

One technology that is making an impact in the field of oncology is 3-D printing. The technique involves layering material to create a three-dimensional object.  3-D molds of tumors and organs can be shaped based on information taken from the patient’s own CT scans and then be used to ensure precision during cancer treatment. The personalized approach enables radiation oncologists to fine-tune radiation dosing to deliver the most effective dose, while still limiting the risk to delicate tissues and organs nearby.

Researchers in Russia are using 3-D technology to develop 3-D replicas of body parts, known as dosimetry phantoms. The models are made from a polymer material constructed to the exact density of human tissue. Various additives are used to replicate bone, muscle, fat and other body components.

The models collect data from scans and imagery. The data is then used to design molds that mimic each patient’s precise body parts. Currently, doctors rely on standard models which may not be as precise as these 3-D replicas.

Once created, the 3-D replica is given a specific dose of radiotherapy. Afterwards, it is examined to help determine the most effective dosage that can be administered with the least damage to healthy tissue.

The Russian models currently take up to two days to create, but the team expects to speed production time of patient specific models to ten hours.

The same 3-D printing technology is also boosting accuracy and reducing collateral tissue damage during radiation treatments. Prior to radiation administration, a rubber-like device is often placed over the skin in the treatment area. This device, known as a bolus, prevents the maximum dose of radiation from being deposited at the skin surface. Instead, calculations are made to allow the radiation dose to build-up in the bolus so that the maximum dose is delivered beneath the surface at the tumor site.

The 3-D printing technology again uses imaging data to create a mold that precisely matches the patient’s anatomy. The mold acts as another layer of tissue and helps to deliver a more uniform dose of radiation at the exact tumor site. Since the design is customizable, the practitioner controls the density of the piece as well as the surface dose.

These are just a few examples of how 3-D printing technology is being used in cancer treatment. With continued research and development, it is likely we will be seeing many exciting and innovative uses of this technology in cancer care in the near future.

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