I’ll Take the Sexy Name

When it comes to radiation therapy products, the high tech companies really outdo themselves with names.  It seems to me that the higher the price tag on the item, the more thought goes into the label.  Varian, the largest manufacturer of linear accelerators, trumped its competition with the moniker on its latest linac, the “TrueBeam”.  What were all the other linacs–  “FalseBeams?”  Even the software gets a fancy name—I remember being in San Francisco a few years ago, sitting in a glass fronted restaurant when a city bus rolled by with the entire side painted with the Varian logo and the words “RapidArc” along with a letter from a child, in hand printed block letters, telling the mommy’s cancer to “be gone” now that she’s being treated with RapidArc.  RapidArc is just software that allows the linac to treat in a continuous 360 degree arc rather than making multiple stops along the way.  The technology speeds up the treatment, but in no way cures more mommies of cancer.

Nowhere does the name game get played out with more gusto than when it comes to anointing new stereotactic radiosurgery equipment.  This technical advance in radiation therapy originally allowed more precise targeting of very small tumors which were unfortunately located next to critical structures, particularly in the brain. Now it is used increasingly to treat lung cancers and metastases to liver and bone.  Roll down any big city freeway these days and you’re bound to see a billboard advertising Cyberknife (usually followed by exclamation points!!).  In a naming tour de force, the Cyberknife is made by a company called AccuRay—again, are the other companies “In-AccuRay?”  The name Cyberknife has made a big bang in the pantheon of medical terminology—with its connotations of cyborg and scalpel, both non radiation oncologists and patients alike imagine that the tumor explodes on impact, and disappears in a radioactive dust.  I am repeatedly amazed when I go to Tumor Boards and am asked, “Can’t you just Cyberknife it?”   Never in the history of radiation oncology has a new technology become a verb.  But when you think about it, if given a choice,would you rather be Cyberknifed, or would you rather go to BrainLab? Shades of Frankenstein!  Cyberknife wins hands down, despite the fact that BrainLab and Trilogy are competing, equally effective modalities for radiosurgery.

Radiation is radiation, my friends.  The technology is ONLY as good as the physician who decides to treat you in the first place, the dosimetrist who performs the calculations, the physicists who QA the plan, and the radiation therapists who aim that machine in the right direction.  So do yourselves a favor and don’t go chasing after the sexy names.  Ask about the credentials of your doctor and the physicist instead and you won’t go wrong.  But even so– my mind sometimes wanders back to my residency days when one of the Cobalt 60 units was called “The Eldorado.”   Now THAT was a name!

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