CHAPEL HILL, NC - Whether it's leading a national team to develop guidelines for radiation therapy, designing techniques to improve radiation therapy or creating a ceremony for patients “graduating” from radiation therapy, Dr. Larry Marks is working to improve patient care.
As he shuttles between the lab and his clinic, the radiation oncology department chair shares that "the best advice I ever received from a professor was, 'Just take good care of your patients and the obvious research questions will become evident.'"
That advice has shaped his research in studying how to decrease heart damage sustained during radiation and in developing UNC’s use of a technique called respiratory gating or breath hold, used to move the heart away from breast tissue during radiation.
He was the physician leader of a national team of experts who reviewed available studies and established new guidelines for the safe treatment of cancer with radiation therapy, and served as co-editor of the report that appeared in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology and Physics. The QUANTEC (Quantitative Analysis of Normal Tissue Effects in the Clinic) guidelines complement standards established almost 20 years ago, before the widespread use of 3-D imaging technology that allows more precise targeting of radiation to tumors and dose/volume data for normal tissues.
In addition to his efforts to make radiation safer and more effective for patients, Marks has also developed a melodic way to help patients celebrate the end of their radiation treatment. He explains: “Going through radiation treatment is stressful. Patients have to come every day for 5, 6, 7 weeks. And when they finish radiation therapy it’s a big deal. Like graduating.”
Patients hold a mallet and strike the gong, making a loud noise. Marks says, “It gives that patient a sense of completion and the sound goes out to the other patients in the lobby, who know that they will be able to strike the gong when they’re done with their treatment.” Patients also have an opportunity to record their thoughts in a notebook beside the gong. The ceremony is a favorite among patients, families, faculty, nurses and staff.
At home Marks makes his own musical contributions-he’s a longtime pianist and enjoys playing Broadway show tunes.
He is most proud of the Radiation Oncology clinical and support staff, “who feel the mission of caring for the people of North Carolina and who “care deeply about what they do.”