FLASH-radiation therapy: hype or game changer?

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Published: 2 Feb 2023
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Prof Philip Poortmans - University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium

Prof Philip Poortmans speaks to ecancer about his talk on 'FLASH-radiation therapy: hype or game changer?' at the BGICC 2023. 

FLASH radiation treatment delivers therapeutic doses of radiation in a fraction of a second. Prof Poortmans explores the effect this treatment has on tumours and the effects on normal tissue.

Dear friends and colleagues, I am Philip Poortmans, radiation oncologist working in Antwerp at the Iridium Network and Antwerp University. I had the honour and pleasure of participating last week to BGICC, the Breast and Gynaecology International and Immunotherapy Cancer Conference. It’s not the first time I have participated, in fact it’s the fourth or the fifth time of which once due to COVID was virtual. So I know a lot of the colleagues there and I am always impressed by the overall organisation and by the way that we, as international speakers and audience, are welcomed by the hosts. The big majority of the participants are from the region, especially Egypt, but also from the Middle East and from Africa. Of course, there are always some participants from other countries and continents. 

Most of the speakers are also from the region but in every session there is a contribution given by international well-renowned speakers – medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, gynaecologists, radiologists, basic researchers and whatever. Because, in fact, we have 3,000 people there, 3,000 people split or scattered over a lot of rooms so there were people I saw only once but they were there all the time. Because the 3,000 people scattered over a lot of parallel sessions goes that it’s impossible to always see everybody.

I participated to the breast-related sessions, of course, and I had a number of contributions. My first contribution, which was part of the plenary session, the plenary open session, was about FLASH-radiation therapy and what the promises of this new, emerging technology are for radiation oncology in general and for breast cancer but also for a number of other topics in particular. FLASH-radiation therapy means that you give the dose in an extremely short timeframe; instead of treatment that lasts typically two minutes, let’s say, one minute and a half, two minutes, you give the treatment in milliseconds. So you can give a dose of, let’s say, 21Gy for interoperative radiation therapy in breast cancer in just something like 100th part of a second which is extremely short. Now, why would we do that? It is because we have a lot of preclinical data that shows that if you give the dose in such a short timeframe that you have the same effect against the tumour but a lot lower effect on normal tissue. So the FLASH effect is, per definition, maintaining anti-tumour effect and lowering the effects on the normal tissue and so the risk for side effects.