Cancer-fighting device blasts tumors with power and precision

A new form of advanced radiation therapy for cancer patients being used at Mercy Health – Youngstown is so powerful and precise it can literally blast high doses of radiation in the shape of the tumor itself.

The technology uses single or multiple arcs and confirms patient position before, during and after each treatment, every day. This approach helps reduce radiation damage to nearby healthy tissue and instead focus radiation intensity on the cancerous areas.

For a patient, it may shorten treatment times and, in many cases, improve outcomes.

Dr. Carl R. Peterson III represents the Radiation Oncology arm of Mercy Health’s comprehensive cancer care team. The local health care center uses a multi-disciplinary, team approach consisting of surgeons, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists all working together to develop treatment plans for patients.

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Each member is present under one roof so they can coordinate patient care and make treatment convenient.

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The mission of Mercy Health has remained steadfast since the Sisters of the Humility of Mary began providing health care services more than 100 years ago. Mercy Health’s core values of compassion, excellence, human dignity, justice, sacredness of life and service are upheld at all of our care locations, blending pioneering technology and innovative equipment to provide the best care possible.

The advanced radiation therapies Dr. Peterson and his team employ are performed using a high-tech piece of equipment called a linear accelerator - with additional equipment not available anywhere else close.

The device, he says, offers the highest level of radiation technology available and is a “workhorse in the radiation oncology field,” particularly when paired with special devices new to this region.

“It can be used to treat 60 to 80 percent of cancer diagnoses,” said Dr. Peterson, medical director, Mercy Health Radiation Oncology. He added it can be used on any organ or body part where the tumor resides.

Side effects may be mild and can range from redness, dryness, itchiness of the skin and fatigue.

Sub-types of this advanced radiation therapy leverage this new accelerator to dramatically improve accuracy and precision with higher doses of radiation. One in particular (among many new options) is called SBRT for “stereotactic body radiation therapy.”

SBRT is only offered locally at Mercy Health - Youngstown by the cancer team and is used for lung, pancreatic and liver tumors, among others.

The linear accelerator takes electrons, not unlike what are found in a filament light bulb, and accelerates them down a vacuum tube in a straight line using microwaves. From there, they smash into a plate made of tungsten and produces high-energy radiation.

They’re a high-energy “x-ray”, Dr. Peterson said. The result is very high dose of radiation delivered with accuracy and precision. It goes where it needs to go and does so each treatment.

“Even though they’re much more powerful than a diagnostic x-ray, they are painless, safe and very controlled and predictable,” Dr. Peterson said. “You cannot see it, smell it, taste it, touch it or feel it.”

Dr. Peterson said between Mercy Health’s team-based approach to treating cancer and the hospital’s convenience being closest to home, means more cancer patients can stay local and receive high-quality, compassionate care.

“With the modern technology we offer, there are very few cancers anymore that require a patient to leave the Mahoning Valley for treatment,” Dr. Peterson said. “We offer cancer care that is above the national standard right here in the Mahoning Valley.”

Outside of college and medical training, Dr. Peterson is a life-long resident of the region, with a passion for improving life for those who choose to live here.

“I work in service to the Mahoning Valley, and I believe the concepts of community service here at Mercy Health are different than in larger hospitals,” Dr. Peterson said. “I think it’s important that we all, as members of this community, provide excellent service to each other. That’s how we’re going to turn the Mahoning Valley around.”

For more information on radiation therapy and cancer treatment at Mercy Health, visit

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