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Medical physics

The medical physics division of VCU Massey Cancer Center's Department of Radiation Oncology provides leading-edge radiation therapy and well-being to patients through:

  • High-quality clinical services and advanced technologies
  • Investigation and implementation of improved treatment planning and delivery technologies
  • Research programs designed to improve the efficiency and efficacy of radiation therapy
  • Clinical trials to assess the clinical efficacy of radiation treatment modalities; Massey both develops and participates in study protocols at the local, regional and national levels

Additionally, the division of medical physics is improving cancer care on local and national levels through comprehensive undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate educational programs, training the next generation of physician scientists. We offer a Ph.D. program in medical physics and a post-graduate residency program in radiation oncology physics. The division is staffed by 14 faculty physicists, 10 dosimetrists, an engineering and computer support group, as well as physics residents, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows.

State-of-the-art capabilities

We are proud to provide our patients advanced, innovative programs in intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), brachytherapy, gated radiotherapy, and stereotactic radiosurgery.

  • The state-of-the-art Trilogy system uses on-board imaging to verify the position and anatomy of the patient in treatment position, allowing more precise targeting of the radiation.
  • Massey’s image-guided brachytherapy suite doubles our capacity to perform brachytherapy procedures and is equipped with a procedure room able to support general anesthesia and intra-operative imaging.
  • Massey is one of the first in the nation to offer the Calypso® 4D Localization System, which accurately and continuously tracks a tumor’s exact location in real time during radiation treatment, allowing doctors to aggressively attack the tumor while avoiding healthy tissues and organs.

Pioneering research

Massey’s radiation oncology research programs are among the most competitive and best-funded in the country. Most significantly, research is supported by two NCI-funded Program Project Grants (PPGs), one in molecular radiobiology and the other in medical physics. Research conducted in the molecular radiobiology PPG aims to better understand the underlying causes of tumor radio resistance at the molecular level by focusing on signal transduction. The long-term goal is to improve radiotherapy by combining genetic or pharmacologic agents with radiotherapy to improve cancer treatment.

The medical physics PPG focuses on image-guided adapted radiation therapy (IGART).

There are two ways to improve the precision of radiation therapy: treatment planning images can be made more exact, and treatment delivery systems can become more accurate. The advent of image-guided adaptive radiotherapy does both, and takes radiation oncology into a realm of new possibilities.

IGART uses daily or even second-by-second imaging of the tumor to optimize treatment by changing the radiation beam based on anatomical changes over time. The ability to adapt the treatment to a tumor's movement during the course of treatment can have a significant effect on the patient's outcome.

Headshot of Jeffrey F. Williamson, Ph.D., F.A.A.P.M., F.A.C.R.

"Conventional radiation therapy makes a great plan and sticks to it over the duration of several weeks," explains Jeffrey F. Williamson, Ph.D., F.A.A.P.M., F.A.C.R. Conventional plans typically use 8 to 20 millimeter margins that allow normal tissue damage. "We may be able to reduce that margin significantly by combining adaptive planning and four-dimensional modeling.”

Photo: Jeffrey F. Williamson, Ph.D., F.A.A.P.M., F.A.C.R.


Other active research areas include:

  • IMRT optimization and delivery
  • Dose computation using Monte Carlo algorithms
  • Brachytherapy dosimetry
  • CT physics and image-guided therapies

These research investigations are highly interdisciplinary, bringing the skills and insights of biomedical, nuclear and electrical engineers, computer scientists, molecular biologists, radiation oncologists and imaging physicists to bear on radiation oncology problems. They are also highly translational and closely integrated with our clinical programs, so that patients can benefit from Massey’s research successes well in advance of commercial implementation.