Q&A with Peter Orio, DO, Radiation Oncologist
Peter Orio III, DO, MS is Vice Chair of Network Operations, Department of Radiation Oncology at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center in clinical affiliation with South Shore Hospital.
When did you first decide to become a physician?
I always wanted to be a physician since I can remember. I took a little side step after college and decided to go to grad school, but realized shortly thereafter that medicine was my calling and something I really wanted to do. Radiation Oncology piqued my interest in medical school through the mentorship I received from leaders in the field who I really wanted to emulate.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I think it’s a privilege and blessing to help guide people through cancer treatment, getting them to a point where they can make peace with what’s going on, but also realize it’s not that scary. When I see a smile emerge and maybe a hug after treatment, that’s my favorite thing.
Cancer doesn’t discriminate, it affects all of us and any of us, and yet life still goes on. I try to balance the entire patient picture, realizing that some patients may have children to take care of or maybe elderly parents to care for while going through treatment. Treating a malignancy is just one facet of a very multifactorial life.
How do you help ease a patient’s anxiety about radiation treatment?
When I first talk to patients about radiation, I realize it can seem scary because much of our world view of radiation has had a negative connotation associated with it. However, when radiation is harnessed and used correctly, it’s very effective in curing cancer. I understand that every patient’s journey is unique so what I try to do is spend as much time with my patients as necessary, going through all the potential side effects of radiation and giving ample time to answer any questions they may have, which really helps alleviate any fears of the unknown.
What are some of the latest technologies being used in radiation oncology at the Cancer Center?
Radiation delivery really has gone through a renaissance over the past few years in how we deliver things safely and effectively. We are getting millimeters of precision by placing intra-tumor markers, so we know how the tumors are moving, or by using image guidance, so we can see real-time how the tumor’s moving as the radiation is being delivered. All of the machines that we use at the Center have these technologies, because in order to treat absolutely safely—avoiding the normal tissues—you really need to know what you’re treating.
A new technology we’ve brought to the South Shore is called Stereotactic Radiosurgery or SRS for short. The name ‘radiosurgery’ is a bit of a misnomer when a patient first hears it because they often assume they’re going to have invasive surgery. In fact, there is nothing invasive at all. The name simply refers to the millimeters of precision we are able to achieve. When I started to do this back in 2002, we would have to put a steel frame on a patient’s head, so we could immobilize the skull so we could be very, very precise. But technologies and imaging have advanced so much that we now don’t have to put any frame on the skull. Instead we use a very special mask, which doesn’t require any incision. The mask allows us to provide very precise radiation without incisions, cuts or surgery in the way most people think of surgery.
What makes Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Hospital in clinical affiliation with South Shore Hospital special?
I think of this Cancer Center as a hybrid center—we’re able to bring the same high-quality knowledge and technology found in Boston closer to patients’ homes, in a warm community atmosphere. It’s wonderful to have the weight and the leverage of our entire main campus in Boston behind us, without having to travel to the main campus to have your treatments. Our goal here on the South Shore is to make sure that we have all the technologies which we have available in town. Ninety five percent of all cancer treatments can be taken care of here on the South Shore. For instance, previously when people would have tumors within the brain, which would be better treated with SRS, we’d have to make arrangements for them to see our colleagues in town. While that was easy enough to arrange, it wasn’t always convenient for the patients. Now we can safely and conveniently treat our patients here, closer to home.
Watch the full interview with Dr. Orio below or learn more about our radiation oncology program and team of providers.