3D Printing Transforms NoCo Radiation Treatment

GREELEY, Colo. – A first for Banner Health, North Colorado Medical Center (NCMC) has announced its use of a 3D printer to enhance treatment for cancer patients undergoing radiation. NCMC’s Oncology Department began treating its first skin cancer patient using 3D-printed molds, called bolus, earlier this month. Since then, providers are now treating multiple cases with plans to expand its use to other cancer treatments and other Banner hospitals later this year.

“The sky’s the limit when it comes to 3D printing,” explains Dr. Alexander Markovic, Medical Physics Program Director for NCMC’s Radiation Oncology. “With the 3D printed bolus, we are able to better target the radiation dose so that the treatment is more effective.”

Markovic and his team pioneered the new 3D printing program at NCMC’s Cancer Institute, paving the way for providers to roll out the program at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Gilbert, Ariz., as well as McKee Medical Center in Loveland, Colo., in the coming months.

After receiving the LulzBot TAZ 6 in December from Loveland-based Aleph Objects, Inc., Markovic and his team underwent several months of training and testing before applying it to a treatment plan this spring. 

Darrell French, an Eaton resident, is more than halfway through 6-weeks of radiation treatment after surgeons removed cancer from the inside of his ear. In preparation for the treatment, Markovic and his team used modeling from CAT scans to print a bolus that wraps around the outside and inside of French’s ear. Made from a flexible filament called NinjaFlex, the bolus ensures the radiation is applied to the right area in the right dosage amount.

“It works really well and it hasn’t bothered me at all,” French said. “After three weeks, the inside of my ear is fine.”

Prior to using a 3D printed bolus, Markovic said less precise materials such as gauze and tape have been the resources available to cover and cup the treatment area, which created air pockets that diluted the radiation dose. 

With 3D printers, however, doctors can create a bolus in six to eight hours with 0.5-millimeter accuracy.

“In the past, we resorted to using simple techniques such as gauze or rubber-like elastic materials to help better distribute radiation dose onto the patient’s skin surface,” said Jeffrey Albert, MD, who specializes in radiation oncology with Banner Health. “The new 3D printer allows us to create custom molds that perfectly conform to a patient’s skin, ensuring more accurate and timely treatment delivery.”

Markovic said that while the 3D printed bolus isn’t a solution for all types of cancers or patients, using it for radiation treatment is the just the beginning. His team is also printing 3D body parts to demonstrate various treatment plans to patients as well as planning to use it for treating other types of cancer, such as breast cancer.

"Desktop 3D printers are increasingly being adopted for end-use applications," Aleph Objects President Harris Kenny said. "Providing highly personalized care from a doctor's desktop is an exciting example of what is possible with 3D printing in healthcare and other fields." 

North Colorado Medical Center is a fully accredited, private, nonprofit facility licensed in Greeley, Colorado, operated by Banner Health, a nonprofit healthcare system with 28 hospitals in six states. It serves as a regional medical center offering a comprehensive scope of community-based and specialty healthcare services for an area including southern Wyoming, western Nebraska, western Kansas and northeastern Colorado. It offers Emergency care, cancer care, heart care, orthopedics, inpatient and outpatient surgery, obstetrics, pediatrics, rehabilitation, intensive care, lab and medical imaging, medical air transport and the Western States Burn Center. NCMC is recognized by Healthgrades as one of “America’s 50 Best Hospitals, 2015, 2016, 2017."