Cancer survivor credits her life to innovative treatment

Dr. John Bechtel said SSM's machine causes fewer side effects and works better than older technology. (KRCG 13)

Two years ago this spring, Jefferson City resident Mary Dowd beat lung cancer into remission. "I look forward to things like picking up the black walnuts, things that a while back I thought, 'Gee, I'd never get to do that again," she said.

She credited her survival to Dr. John Bechtel and the innovative "stereotactic," or highly precise, radiation treatment at SSM Health Cancer Center at JCMG in Jefferson City.

"That machine is fantastic," Dowd said. "I went through six weeks of five days a week of radiation and never had a skin problem. That's unheard of with some radiations."

Dr. John Bechtel said SSM's machine doesn't only cause fewer side effects; it also works better than older technology. "We give a much higher dose of radiation per treatment, and we give much fewer treatments," he said. "It has made it so effective, that for example with Stage One Lung Cancer, it's basically as effective to have stereotactic treatment to your lung cancer as it is to have surgical removal. But this type of radiation avoids all the side effects of surgery: infection, bleeding, the risk of anesthesia."

Dr. Bechtel explained traditional radiation therapy is like a flashlight - it illuminates or treats a general area. He said stereotactic radiation therapy is more like a laser beam - it brightly pinpoints only one tiny spot or tumor. "That way, patients get a very strong dose of radiation to the tumor while only getting a very small dose of radiation to the normal tissues nearby," he said.

Dowd said she finished stereotactic radiation treatment without lingering side effects; and most importantly, she is now in remission. "It's something I still have a hard time believing," she said. "Based on my diagnosis, I did not think I would be living the life I am able to enjoy today."

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