(WGHP) — The medical world has been making progress in fighting cancer for decades. 

Although we’re not likely to eradicate the disease in our lifetimes, many types of cancer (there are more than 5,000) are becoming much more like manageable diseases than death sentences.

And Cone Health has made what some consider to be a leap forward in cancer treatment with computer programs.

What Cone has done is pioneer cancer radiation treatment plans with computer programs.

“We identify the tumor with a CT scan…then we obliterate the tumor using radiation,” said Lane Hayes, one of Cone Health’s medical physicists. “So we use computers to model how that radiation is going to interact with the person and hopefully prioritize destroying the tumor over destroying normal tissue.”

There is more benefit there than meets the eye. First off, it allows Cone to “work at the speed of the patient,” meaning treating the patient when they’re ready which is often sooner than the treatment plan was.

“Radiation treatment planning is a pretty labor-intensive, time-consuming process that we ask staff members to do now…with this method we’re doing we can generate them in fractions of the time,” Hayes said.

That’s no small thing. Every week that passes without treatment can mean between a 2 and 5% higher mortality rate.

But Cone’s innovation is more than just about speed. They’re discovering that the plans their software provides are certainly as good as and often better than what a clinician can do over a much longer time.

“What we’ve found is that the vast majority of the time, our clinicians either can’t tell the difference between the two plans because they’re equivalent or what we’re doing with the machine is actually better,” Hayes said.

“More than 80% of the time, the clinician chose the computer-generated plan,” said Hayes’ Cone Health colleague, Han Liu.

It’s this kind of work that has Cone Health medical physicists like Hayes and Liu smiling every time they walk into work.

“When you see a project like this, I think you see the potential, but you’re not sure if you can actualize it,” Hayes said. “I think it’s huge. It motivates me every day.”

See more on how it works in this edition of The Buckley Report.