Marin General Hospital Offers Patients More Treatment Options

Author: Joel Poen, MD, radiation oncologist

A diagnosis of cancer is scary enough without the additional anxiety of wondering what your treatment will involve. Will it make you sick or cause side effects? Will it be painful? Will you have to put your life on hold until treatments are through? 

In my career as a radiation oncologist, I have seen this anxiety firsthand. Patients come to me with a new diagnosis — a brain tumor for example — and are naturally terrified. 

It’s true that in the past, treatments were often difficult and not applicable to everyone. Now, we have reached a point in our history where I can truthfully say advancements in technology offer us an array of treatment options for people who didn’t have many before.

One of those technologies is the cutting edge TrueBeam Radiotherapy System, of which Marin General Hospital acquired not one but two earlier this year. With the True Beam linear accelerator, our cancer team is able to treat complex cancers, such as in the head and neck, lung, breast, abdomen, and brain with more accuracy, speed, and ease to the patient than we have ever had before.

The TrueBeam system provides the radiation oncologist an extremely powerful, incredibly precise, advanced tool, capable of determining the area to be treated to sub-millimeter accuracy. Treatment can be tailored to match the patient’s unique circumstances and be finely focused to protect critical organs and healthy tissue surrounding the tumor.

As technology has improved over the decades, radiotherapy has been introduced to treat cancer and great advances have been made in precision, accuracy and tissue sparing capabilities. Now with the TrueBeam system, we can also offer our patients a significantly more comfortable and stress-free experience.

First, treatments are fast. Delivery of radiation to the area being targeted once took 10 to 30 minutes. With TrueBeam, this can now be completed in less than two minutes. 

In addition, the TrueBeam linear accelerator only looks intimidating. During treatment, it moves quietly around the patient on the table, often accompanied by background music, and all the while delivering an incredibly precise, high intensity focused beam onto the tumor. After the treatment is over, patients get up and walk out, many saying they’re not really sure if anything has been done. 

One of my patients will testify to the ease and comfort of her treatment with the TrueBeam system. Phuong Gallagher had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer when she was just 29, and had undergone chemotherapy, low-grade radiation, and surgery to keep her cancer at bay through several remissions and recurrences. With a new tumor in her liver, we recommended treatment with the True Beam system. We were able to get an incredibly detailed CT scan of her tumor right from the treatment table. Then software analyzed the images, identified the precise location and moved Phuong into the exact correct position, putting her tumor in the center of the beam. Bravely facing yet another cancer treatment, Phuong reported back to us that radiotherapy with TrueBeam was a “seamless and painless experience.”

Phuong is in remission and has moved to Los Angeles to be closer to her family. Even so, she plans to keep the cancer care team at Marin General Hospital who have been caring for her during her long journey with cancer. I am privileged to have helped her along the way, and I invite you to read her inspiring story on 

A diagnosis of cancer will probably always be scary, but with sophisticated technology such as the TrueBeam Radiotherapy System available to us today, patients not only have more options to fight the disease, but significantly more reasons to hope for a successful recovery.