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Hospital's Radiotherapy Team Still Leads the Way for Treatments
11 June 2013

A new high-dose radiation therapy that kills tumours and saves patients from needing surgery is the latest pioneering treatment helping Ipswich Hospital patients survive cancer.

The hospital’s radiotherapy team has a proud history of being at the forefront of medical breakthroughs. Now it has become one of only a handful of hospitals in the country to introduce this latest advance – stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR).

SABR can be used to treat patients with a range of different cancers, most commonly lung cancer. Courses of regular radiotherapy can take a number of weeks but SABR can be delivered in just three treatments. Head of radiotherapy physics Hayley James, inset below, said: “This is a big clinical scoop for the hospital and very good news for patients. SABR uses well-targeted, high doses of radiation to ablate, eg kill or destroy, tumours in their entirety and alleviates the need for invasive surgery. “It is very technical and we use a special energy that delivers the radiation much quicker than conventional treatments. This is much better for the patients as they are not lying on the treatment couch for as long.”

If the arrival of SABR was not reason enough to celebrate, the Radiotherapy Centre has just been awarded £300,000 from the Department of Health for additional equipment. The windfall will allow the centre to increase the amount of intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) it offers to patients. IMRT allows clinicians to sculpt the radiotherapy beam to the size and shape of tumour while minimising the radiation dose to healthy organs, therefore reducing side effects. SABR is a type of IMRT that uses particularly high doses. The £300,000, from a £22million national pot, will speed up IMRT treatment planning so more patients can benefit each day. The team sees more than 100 new patients every month and IMRT is regarded as clinically appropriate for 40% of patients. Now all patients at the centre will receive IMRT if their doctor considers it appropriate. Ms James said: “This keeps us in the running as one of the very best radiotherapy centres in the UK. We are a training centre for IMRT and the levels performed here are higher than most other centres. “It coincides with new evidence about more tumour sites benefiting from IMRT. “In the past all we could do is treat square boxes of tissue and of course tumours aren’t like that. They are all sorts of shapes and sizes, tucked away behind organs and often in tricky to reach places. “We also use a modified version to treat breast cancer patients.”

Radiotherapy is not only used to cure. It is also used to control symptoms (for example to relieve pain), before surgery (to shrink a tumour to make it easier to remove) and after surgery (to destroy small amounts of tumour that may be left). Radiotherapy manager Suzanne Isherwood, an experienced radiographer, inset right, said: “As long as technical advances continue in radiotherapy, we will continue to bring them here to Ipswich. We are extremely proud of what we do. “Our patients are getting a very good deal and they should come to us with confidence.” That confidence was demonstrated in a recent national patient survey when 96% of Ipswich radiotherapy patients said they felt they were treated as a whole person while in clinic, and not as a set of symptoms. Nationally the figure was 94%. Similarly, 98% of Ipswich patients said they would happily go back to the centre if they needed radiotherapy again, compared to the 94% national average. And 72% said their care was excellent, while 23% said very good. The national averages were 69% and 24%.