The department that is today known as Radiation Oncology was for many years part of the Department of Radiology. It was in 1979 when Dean Raja N. Khuri took the decision to split radiotherapy and radiology into 2 distinct departments, and hence the Radiation Therapy Department, was created and chaired by Dr. Philip Issa until 1997 when Dr. Fady Geara who was recruited from the United States replaced Dr. Issa. In 1998, the department changed name to become Department of Radiation Oncology.
Dr. Issa joined AUBMC in 1953 and served the AUBMC community for 46 years. He was recruited by the late Dr. Leonardo Giacci. He had studied medicine at USJ and trained in France at the Curie Institute, in Radiation therapy and Oncology. Dr. Issa remembers that he did not know a word of English when he joined AUBMC, and had to pick up the English language through trial and error at AUBMC. He was indeed the first Lebanese medical staff who was not an AUB medical student.
During his years at AUBMC, Dr. Issa met with several specialists who commended the excellent service and medical care provided at AUBMC. Dr. Haagensen, a specialist in breast cancer and soft tissue cancer, spent some time at the hospital and contributed to meetings and conferences. Dr. Haagensen admitted that apart from England at the time, AUBMC was the best hospital in Europe and the Middle East.
Dr. Issa reminisces about the state of the hospital during the 1975 Lebanese war. He tells of how their only physicist left during the war and he and Dean Raja N. Khuri had to find a replacement. They ended up interviewing Dr. Nagalakscmi in Bombay, India, who was appointed as physicist and served AUBMC for 11 years. Dr. Nagalakscmi left in 1998.
The first machine that was in use in the department was the “Deep Therapy” machine, a 250 KV x-ray machine. The first high energy machine was a Cobalt machine that was given to AUBMC as a gift from the Lebanese government in the 1960’s. This was offered to AUBMC on condition that AUBMC provided free treatment for a certain number of patients. Two other cobalt machines were later installed in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The last Cobalt machine that was installed was taken off the clinical service in 1999.
A major equipment renewal and remodeling of the department occurred in 1995-1997 under the leadership of Dr. Samir Najjar as Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Medical Center and Dr. Philip Issa as a Chairman of the department. The project consisted of enlarging the department to house 2 new bunkers for 2 new linear accelerators, installing a new simulator, and remodeling the physical layout of the department to create more clinic and office space. In late 1997, Dr. Fady Geara was appointed as Chairman of the department and added few additional remodeling to accommodate newer and more advanced dosimetry, treatment planning, and shielding laboratory equipment.
The addition of this modern equipment and the new leadership with the arrival of Dr. Geara, were another turning point in the history of the department. Dr. Geara was recruited by Dean Samir Najjar from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and brought with him modern views and programs in the clinical and technical aspects of radiation oncology. Under Dr. Geara several changes took place in the department like the reorganization of the technical staff, the recruitment of two well credentialed and American Board Certified medical physicists, the creation of a residency program in Radiation Oncology, and the development of several new radiation therapy procedures. Some of these procedures were intradepartmental like 3D conformal radiation therapy planning and delivery (2000), high dose rate brachytherapy for gynecologic and other malignancies (2001), and total body irradiation for allogeneic bone marrow transplant (2004). Others were interdepartmental like stereotactic radiosurgery that was developed with Dr. Youssef Comair in Neurosurgery (1999) to treat deep and inaccessible intracranial lesions, and intravascular coronary artery brachytherapy that was developed in collaboration with Dr. Samir Alam in Cardiology (2000) to treat in-stent restenosis after angioplasty. Further advanced radiation treatment techniques were adopted at AUBMC such as the intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) (2010), the image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT) (2010), 4-dimensional computed tomography (4D CT) treatment planning (2013), stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) (2013), and most recently respiratory gating with deep inspiration breath-hold technique (DIBH) (2015) and prone breast irradiation (2017). To the department’s leadership and staff pride, most if not all, of these services were first in the country and the neighboring countries.
Other collaborative and development programs were developed outside the institution and the country like the development of radiation clinical services guidelines and quality assurance programs at the King Hussein Cancer Center in Amman, Jordan (2004) and at the Syrian Cancer Society in Damascus Syria (2006). Most recently in 2014, an affiliation with the Nabatieh Governmental Hospital (NBGUH) was established to provide consultations and care to the community of South Lebanon, through two of AUBMC Radiation Oncologists with a total of 533 new patients for radiation therapy consultations in 2017 in NBGUH.