3-D printer helps improve radiation treatment

GREELEY, Colo. -- Doctors at North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley are some of the first in the country to use a 3-D printer to help treat cancer patients.  The doctors create a custom 3-D printed mold of the part of the body that needs radiation.

The technology that the radiation oncologist uses is amazingly precise, but the material they use to fit over the skin during radiation had room for improvement.

To administer radiation, doctors use a bolus, or a flexible sheet of material to fit over the skin to distribute the dose across the affected area in a uniform fashion.

But Alex Markovic, the Program Director of Medical Physics at North Colorado Medical Center, said the material that is commonly used creates air gaps, and doesn’t fill the curves of the anatomy correctly.

So he turned to a 3-D printer.

Doctors can now create a mold of the affected area of the body that fits more precisely. “For the patients it’s an easier, faster set up. Their  treatments are done sooner, and it`s a more accurate set up,” said Dr. Jeffrey Albert, a radiation oncologist.

It seems to be working well for Darrell French. He gets radiation to the area around his ear, and the mold fits perfectly. “I think they`ve come up with a good thing for everyone,” French said.

The 3-D printer cost about $3,000, but each bolus costs less than $10 to make.

The bolus can work well for breast cancer or skin cancer patients.

Doctors are also excited to see where else this technology can be applied.

“It’s going to come down to our imagination and our ideas on how we want to develop this further,” Markovic said.