Care for Cancer

Whether it’s using cutting-edge technology to battle breast cancer or shaving his head to show camaraderie to his patients, it is clear Dr. Mark Thompson isn’t your average doctor. 

Thompson, a radiation oncologist at the Kansas City Cancer Center, has devoted his career to providing patients with the best treatment options to fight against cancer and get back to their normal lives. 

For the last two years, Thompson and his colleagues at the Kansas City Cancer Center have been using a revolutionary new radiation treatment for women in the early stages of breast cancer that dramatically reduces radiation treatment time from more than six weeks to just five days. 

The new type of radiation therapy is a form of breast brachytherapy, which allows doctors to use a SAVI applicator to target a specific tumor site from inside the breast instead of traditional therapy, which uses an external beam to provide radiation treatment. 

This novel treatment method is now a new option for women who opt for breast conservation instead of a mastectomy and is typically combined with a lumpectomy. 

According to Thompson, a Leawood resident, the SAVI applicator radiation therapy has a number of advantages for patients. One of the most significant benefits is the radically shorter treatment period. Patients who undergo traditional radiation therapy must receive radiation five times per week throughout a period of about six and a half weeks. However, with the new SAVI applicator, therapy treatment time is shortened to just twice a day for a five-day period.

Spending less time at the Cancer Center can allow patients to cut down on travel expenses and insurance co-pays and help them get back to their normal routine.

“These women love getting this short treatment where they can get on with their lives,” Thompson says. 

That couldn’t be more evident than in the case of one of Thompson’s recent patients. The woman he worked with received the new radiation procedure in June, and by July was off scuba diving with her daughter in Mexico. 

“It’s just unbelievable,” Thompson says. 

But the shorter treatment period isn’t the only advantage to the SAVI applicator therapy. Thompson says the new form of radiation allows doctors to target the site of the tumor within the breast and, in turn, the process reduces radiation exposure to a patient’s healthy tissue surrounding the breast such as the skin, heart, lungs and ribs. 

Thompson says the process also has a successful treatment rate. The procedure is currently used for women 45 years old or older who have a centralized tumor less than three centimeters in size and have nodes that are free from cancer surrounding the tumor.

Thompson’s interest in cutting-edge radiation technologies isn’t anything new. The doctor, who received his medical degree from Texas Tech University, also spent a portion of his residency in Seattle studying under Dr. John C. Blasko. Blasko helped pioneer a new radiation treatment for prostate cancer, and Thompson was able to work closely on the project. 

Combining medicine and technology is the perfect fit for Thompson, who originally got his undergraduate degree in engineering. 

“It’s fun doing something new,” he says. 

But Thompson doesn’t just help his patients by using the latest radiation treatments–he’s also found more personal ways to help his patients. 

This spring, Thompson shaved his head as part of Shave to Save, the American Cancer Society’s annual fundraiser. The money raised during the event went to benefit the Society’s Hope Lodge in Kansas City. The Hope Lodge is a place where cancer patients can stay for free during their cancer treatments.

Thompson says although he wasn’t anxious to lose all his hair, he agreed to help with the event because he knows just how important the Hope Lodge is to many of the patients he treats. 

“I thought if I could do this to help them raise some money, it was worth it,” he says. 

Shaving his head had another outcome as well. Thompson said the process of losing his hair has also given him a greater understanding of what his patients are going through on a daily basis and has helped him identify with their struggles on a more personal level. 

Dimitri Dimitroyannis, a board-certified medical physicist who works closely with Thompson, says his colleague is always doing little things to help his patients, even if it’s just being flexible when setting appointment times for patients who have a long distance to travel. 

“He’s a very energetic individual,” says Dimitroyannis. 

Dimitroyannis added that Thompson’s background in engineering and his technical mind make him a unique asset at the Cancer Center. 

“The field that he’s chosen to pursue is an extremely technical field,” he says. “It suits him very well.” 

Regardless of whether it’s shearing his locks or continually looking for the next breakthrough in research, Thompson remains committed to his patients and their fight against cancer. 

 “It’s nice helping these people out especially when they are going through a struggle,” Thompson says. 

words: Jill Sederstrom

photos: Abbe Findley