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Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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Brain surgeon at Mary Washington does hospital’s first SRS surgery

Dr. Jeffrey Poffenbarger

Mary Washington Hospital put its new stereotactic radiosurgery equipment to use yesterday.

Dr. Jeffrey Poffenbarger, a neurosurgeon at Mary Washington, performed the specialized surgery at the new Regional Cancer Center on the hospital campus in Fredericksburg. Poffenbarger operated on the brain of a cancer patient. The surgery took about 30 minutes, and the patient went home about 30 minutes later.

The patient will receive two more similar treatments this week, with a day of rest between each treatment, Poffenbarger said this afternoon.

By “fractionating” the treatment, “Your ability to kill the tumor is enhanced, and your ability to spare healthy tissue is enhanced,” he said.

Poffenbarger used the hospital’s new $4.5 million TruBeam linear accelerator. The machine, installed in August, has been used on cancer patients who need standard radiation treatments. Yesterday was the first time it was used for stereotactic radiosurgery, or SRS.

Yesterday’s procedure was follow-up treatment for the patient.  Poffenbarger had operated on her at Mary Washington Hospital in August. He opened the patient’s skull during that surgery to remove a cancerous tumor.

This time he did not open the skull, he said. Instead, with the help of Dr. John Chinault, radiation oncologist at the hospital, he directed a powerful beam of radiation to the spot where the patient’s tumor had been.

Dr. John Chinault

“In past we would have radiated the whole brain or done nothing to see if tumor grew back,” he said. “If you do nothing, the tumor grows back 20 to 30 percent of the time. This gives us a wonderful compromise. We treat the tumor bed and drop the recurrence rate to very small numbers, on the order of 5 percent.”

The arrival of the SRS service means that some Fredericksburg-area cancer patients will no longer have to travel to Charlottesville for treatments.

Poffenbarger treated local patients with cranial cancers at the University of Virginia Health System for more than four years. Mary Washington has partnered with the U.Va. for the SRS service here.

“Tomorrow I will go to Charlottesville for the very last two cases I will do up there,” Poffenbarger said. “We’ll do all the others down here.”

Dr. Timothy Sherwood, a thoracic surgeon at Mary Washington, is scheduled to use SRS procedures next week for treatment of a patient with lung cancer.