An estimated 11,000 people are newly diagnosed with cancer annually across the region. Of these, many will receive treatment plans involving radiotherapy, which can be used in the treatment of breast cancer, prostate cancer, bowel and bladder cancers, as well as head and neck cancers such as throat cancer.
Currently, the cancer centre delivers approximately 45,000 doses of radiotherapy treatment annually to about 3,800 patients (roughly 240 patients a day, five days a week) via seven linear accelerator machines (linacs), which are housed in their own individual treatment rooms. Starting in the summer, the plan is to convert six linacs plus one CT scanner to SGRT with breast cancer patients to be the first to benefit.
Our Guiding Light Appeal will run along the exact same lines as our previous 20th anniversary birthday appeal, which means we will take delivery of the SGRT equipment first and pay it off as donations come in. We are very grateful to the kit’s manufacturer, Vision RT, for enabling us to do this – however, it really does mean that keeping this equipment is dependent on charitable support.
Tracey Ellis, oncology clinical director for Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, which manages Rosemere Cancer Centre, and who applied to Rosemere Cancer Foundation for SGRT funding, said: “We are delighted to be one of the first UK centres to bring SGRT technology to our radiotherapy patients.
“The advantages it gives us in terms of setting patients up in the correct position with the least amount of manual handling, the reduction in closed mask usage and no tattoos, which can be a constant and for some patients, psychologically damaging reminder of their cancer, while delivering treatment with the highest level of accuracy currently possible will revolutionise patients’ whole experience of radiotherapy and bring a new level of job satisfaction to staff throughout the department.”
So what difference will SGRT make for radiotherapy patients?
Many of our patients are keenly aware as to what radiotherapy entails, but for those of you who aren’t, it is a treatment which uses high energy radiation beams to treat the site of a patient’s cancer. It is used to try and destroy cancer cells by damaging the cells’ DNA. It is generally considered the most effective cancer treatment after surgery.
As well as cancer cells, radiotherapy may damage some healthy cells in the area being treated. To try and limit any damage as much as possible, it is common for patients to undergo multiple “positioning” scans to identify the specific point on their body at which the radiation beam needs to be directed.
When identified, the skin is tattooed with a number of small but permanent black “positioning” marks. These marks enable the radiographer to set up/position the patient to allow them to exactly aim the radiation beam.
To try and ensure only the designated area is targeted by the radiation beam, patients are told to remain as still as possible during their treatment. In some cases, they are even instructed to hold their breath, while some head and neck cancer patients have to have their head enclosed in a treatment mask, which can be claustrophobic, uncomfortable and hinder communication.
In all cases, patients are monitored via CCTV cameras and if they are seen to move or twitch, the radiographer will halt treatment until the patient is re-positioned. This can extend treatment time but more than that, it can also be very difficult for radiographers, even though they are highly trained and skilled, to spot what could be just miniscule movement. Even a small shift could lead to a sub optimal dose of radiation as well as risk damage to the area outside of the designated treatment zone.
With SGRT, which can be used on every radiotherapy patient, there are no tattoos and it reduces the need for closed face masks. If a patient moves at all, the radiation beam will instantly and automatically stop, reducing the risk of potential damage to healthy cells and preventing sub optimal dosage to the treatment area.
SGRT uses a near infra-red light system – a guiding light. The guiding light is projected on to the patient’s skin via camera pods installed in the treatment room. It pinpoints with sub-mm accuracy where the radiation beam needs to be delivered.
SGRT equipment is non contact, non invasive and doesn’t use any radiation. In fact, by increasing the accuracy of radiotherapy treatment positioning and delivery, it can reduce additional radiation exposure by reducing the number of positioning scans needed. It can also speed up positioning time, reducing the length of stay in the treatment room and with increased treatment accuracy, it can reduce the risk of both radiotherapy’s short and long-term side-effects.
The introduction of this service would truly cement Rosemere Cancer Centre’s place on the national oncology map; only 14 out of 65 centres currently offer this service nationally. With your help, there could be one more.