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Dr. Lia Halasz, Brain and Central Nervous System Tumors Expert

Dr. Lia Halasz, Brain and Central Nervous System Tumors Expert

May is Brain Cancer Awareness Month. One of our specialists in brain and central nervous system tumors is Dr. Lia Halasz, who has been with the Center since its inception in 2013. Dr. Halasz spoke to us about updates in her professional career since we last talked to her in 2017. One of the highlights of her career is being the director of the Residency Program at UW Medicine's Department of Radiation Oncology.

"I feel that running the education program – training future radiation oncologists – is one of the best ways to contribute to the field," says Dr. Halasz. "It's very fulfilling."

The department trains ten resident physicians at a time, and the training program is 4 years long. Upon finishing, the residents practice all over the country.

She is also the co-director of the Alvord Brain Tumor Center at UW Medicine. The Alvord Center combines the expertise of many neuro-radiation oncologists, neuro-oncologists, and neurosurgeons who collaborate on the best treatment for each patient. One goal is also to find clinical trials for all patients with brain tumors who come through Alvord.

Here at the Proton Center, we have three ongoing national brain tumor clinical trials – for meningioma, low-grade glioma, and glioblastoma. These trials are still ongoing, so doctors don't have results yet, and research has slowed lately due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has dampened enrollment," says Dr. Halasz. "And sometimes patients prefer not to be randomly assigned to a modality – proton radiation therapy or conventional radiation therapy delivered with X-rays – which is how the clinical trials work. Understandably, they want to be able to choose their treatment, though randomized trials are how we answer many important questions." 

Outside UW Medicine, Dr. Halasz is also the vice-chair of a multidisciplinary committee on clinical practice guidelines for lower-grade glioma at the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO). ASTRO dedicates itself to improving patient care through professional education, health policy standards, advancement of science and research, and advocacy. Clinical practice guidelines for disease sites are an important part of that commitment.

"I recently did a fun Facebook Live event for ASTRO," says Dr. Halasz, "where we answered lots of good questions from around the country about how we use radiation therapy to treat brain and CNS cancers. Also, it was the first panel I've ever been on in the CNS neuro-oncology world that was made up entirely of women physicians!"

Dr. Halasz became interested in brain cancers because it is an area where researchers and doctors constantly improve treatment. "We have a ways to go, but being part of the team to end brain cancer is incredibly rewarding," says Dr. Halasz. "The brain is such an essential part of a person, making it especially important that we individualize our treatments for each person."

Proton therapy is an excellent tool to have in the arsenal to treat cancers because it can improve the side effects profile of radiation treatment in certain situations. This is especially true for childhood cancer patients with developing brains or when doctors need to treat large areas like the whole brain and spinal cord. Avoiding the memory parts of the brain can also be improved with proton therapy. Sometimes, it also allows doctors to deliver a higher dose of radiation to the brain or skull.

"I love that our patients will constantly say to me: 'You've got such a great team,'" says Dr. Halasz of working at the Center. "The staff here really go the extra mile for the patient and make them feel at home. I also love that we are a resource for such a large region. I utilized proton therapy when I was training in Boston, and we had patients who'd traveled all the way from the Pacific Northwest. So I was very excited to have the Center open here."

The Center is lucky to have such an excellent and empathetic specialist in brain tumors at the Center. Dr. Halasz treats most of the brain and spinal cord patients who receive proton therapy here.